Building a More Equitable and Just RWU
January 17, 2021
To the RWU Community,
Tomorrow, Jan. 18, our country honors the life and impact of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is an opportunity to reflect on his legacy, the progress our country has made on civil rights in the half-century since his tragic death, and to honestly acknowledge where we are failing to live up to his call for justice for the Black community and for marginalized people all across our country.
Against the current national backdrop of racial inequity, violence and divisiveness, I look to Dr. King’s wise words to guide us as we continually strive to make RWU a better community:
“People fail to get along because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they have not properly communicated with each other.”
A core purpose of higher education is to challenge us to reflect critically about ourselves, our place in the world, and how we can improve as a society. To do that, we must educate ourselves, be open to learning about and from others, and engage in thoughtful civil discourse that includes differing perspectives. When we fail to do so – when our own perspectives blind us, when hateful speech and violence prevent us from engaging in open dialogue or respecting one another – we all lose.
These conversations are important for our students on many levels. Universities like ours have a moral obligation: we must prepare our graduates to engage with the people and ideas of our diverse world with compassion, understanding and respect. When we teach students how to conduct themselves with respect for all members of the community, we cultivate tolerance and understanding. We show them how they will need to connect constructively in the diverse world and workplace that awaits them. This is certainly the example that Dr. King set for us.
Roger Williams University must lead the way in providing educational opportunities for our students and encouraging open exchange of ideas with civility and respect. Even before the spring semester officially starts, we already have held a conversation about the U.S. Capitol insurrection, featuring faculty members and the student presidents of the College Republicans and College Democrats. We will hold many more events this semester to deepen our understanding of history, current challenges and future hopes, so that together we can effect change amidst the many social justice issues we face.
This spring, we will also continue to make progress on the institutional changes in the RWU community set forth in our Equity Action Plan. Here, I want to share some of our most recent steps taken, as well as some of the further work we will undertake to become a more just and equitable university.
Chief Diversity Officer Search
The Search Committee for our Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, with representation from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and board members from the University and School of Law, have met and begun the search process.
Our search partners, Spelman Johnson, held various listening sessions with campus and are finalizing a draft position description that the committee will review in its next meeting. I appreciate all of the community members who took part in these sessions, which have helped us to consider the position scope, budget, and many other points of support as we fill this critical leadership position for our community.
Through these listening sessions, it became clear that we must set this position up for success even before day one and improve the onboarding and transition support for the Chief Diversity Officer. I am committed to doing so and will ensure the planning and design of a thoughtful and comprehensive onboarding process for the next CDO.
Strategic Planning and Equity Action Plan
This spring, we are developing a long-term strategic plan that must be explicitly linked to the important work and initiatives developed in our Equity Action Plan. University senior leadership, faculty and staff are collaborating on a vision blueprint that will chart a course for the university with equity embedded into all parts of the plan.
Equity, inclusion and justice must be considered in all of our efforts and practices at RWU. As the cornerstone of our overall institutional planning efforts, the Equity Action Plan must guide us so that all members of our community have a true sense of belonging at Roger.
Diversity Training and Curricular Updates
In November, various faculty and staff participated in the Leading for Change Higher Education Diversity Consortium’s Racial Justice Equity Institute (REJI) Keynote Workshop. Following the workshop, our RWU REJI Consortium co-chairs held a conversation with 27 participants and team members to discuss what they had learned and how to incorporate initiatives into their work and classrooms.
As part of spring faculty conference this month, faculty are participating in a training – “Teaching Half Naked: Inclusive Training in a Blended Environment” – designed to provide insights into effective strategies, engagement and support to provide more inclusive instruction. It’s being led by renowned inclusive education expert Jose Bowen.
At RWU Law, the school has enhanced its diversity and inclusion programming and curricular reform, while greatly expanding resources for students, faculty and staff. Over the summer, more than 50 faculty and staff participated in the Anti-Racism, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Professional Development Challenge. And starting in Fall 2021, the law school curriculum will add a required course for all students on antiracism and white supremacy.
University senior leadership, which includes myself, the President’s Cabinet and all school deans, have begun a comprehensive diversity training series with external social justice educators, particularly focused on developing Inclusive Leadership skills. With a commitment to annual diversity training, we will continue to build more capacity for equity work at the institutional level.
A community of students, faculty and staff who identify as Black, Indigenous or a person of color has been quickly growing, thanks to the leadership and facilitation of the Division of Student Life. Led by Zoila Quezada, Director of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the university is providing a space for BIPOC students to build a community, network and receive mentorship from BIPOC faculty and staff.
Student Life has also developed an opportunity for a small cohort of undergraduate students to learn how to become meaningful allies and advocates for marginalized communities. The educational series, From Allyship to Advocacy, will inform participants how to deepen their impact on social justice issues on the RWU campus and within their own local communities.
Improved Process for Bias Incidents
After a thorough review and consultation with students, the Division of Student Life has revised the way incidents move through the process, with the aim of providing a clearer process and more effective responses.
The Bias Incident Response team has been expanded to include representatives beyond the undergraduate community, adding members from the School of Law, University College, and Human Resources. There is also now an opportunity for students to serve in an advisory role to the team.
Throughout February, we will offer a number of events open to the whole community celebrating Black History Month and present important conversations on social justice issues. A variety of events will also be held that center BIPOC student voices and history.
Here is a listing of some upcoming events open to the RWU community.
- The university’s yearlong series, “Hidden Truths: Stories of Race and Place,” continues for the spring semester. On Feb. 11 at 7 p.m., the series renews with “Works on Memory: Reflections and Practices – Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery,” a presentation by Professor of Architecture Julian Bonder, and continues monthly through April. Visit here for the full schedule of events.
- RWU Law presents the 16th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Keynote Address on Feb. 17 at 6 p.m., featuring Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson.
- The Intercultural Center presents a series of events celebrating Black History Month. Helping to plan and execute these events is IC staff member and graduate assistant David Hayes ’20, the creator of the poster series celebrating influential Black history figures that hung across campus last February.
- Throughout February, the educational poster series about Black history will be renewed for display across campus; and a special exhibit of historical and current events honoring Black history will be on display at the University Library.
- Black Excellence Week at RWU will be held Feb. 8-12, celebrating Black students in our campus community. It will feature:
- An Alumni of Color Networking Event on Feb. 8;
- An open mic night centering BIPOC student voices on Feb. 10;
- Student Ted Talks focused on engaging in social justice activism on Feb. 11; and
- A film showing of “I Am Not Your Negro” about the author James Baldwin’s personal account of the civil rights movement on Feb. 12
- Additionally, on February 16, there will be a special program, “Dialogue on Diversity: Martin Luther King, Jr’s Shared Dreams,” featuring an interactive, participatory presentation of Dr. King’s anti-poverty campaign.
Equity Work in the Community
At RWU, we challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills to real needs and issues in our local communities – and some of these efforts directly impact equity among our community members. The work we do in the community is very important and I am so proud when our outreach focuses on historically excluded or marginalized community members and advances equity across our region. There are almost too many examples of this work – from community-engaged courses to student research – to list here, but I will note just a few that have happened recently and are ongoing.
To begin their spring semester, all undergraduate students have the opportunity to participate through RWU in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service project, part of a designated nationwide movement encouraging all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities through a day of service.
RWU Law’s legal clinics serve thousands of people in need across Rhode Island who would otherwise be unable to afford legal services.
At the Providence campus, great work is being done in research and policy advocacy around a wide range of equity issues. Just these past few months, the Center for Youth and Community Leadership in Education has issued a report that reveals Black students are disproportionately arrested among the Providence Public School District student population. HousingWorkRI’s 2020 Housing Fact Book utilized racial and ethnic data to expose disparities in home ownership and renting in Rhode Island. In addition to publishing research on the disparate impact of COVID-19 among the Latino community, the Latino Policy Institute is also collaborating with students in a UC Community Development course to perform a diversity audit of state boards and commissions to examine the racial, ethnic and gender representation of state officials.
We hope you join us for many of our upcoming events, and I ask that you take a moment tomorrow to reflect and consider all of these opportunities and how you can actively engage in our equity work. Given the recent events across the country, our equity work as a society and as a campus community has become more urgent. Our generation is experiencing a historic call for justice, and it is imperative that we move forward with a commitment to civility and collaboration. This is the legacy and road map that Dr. King has left for us. It is time for us to walk that walk.
I look forward to our work together this semester.
Dr. Ioannis Miaoulis is the eleventh president of Roger Williams University