Last week, I had the opportunity to “sit” with students, staff, and faculty. I heard anguish over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. I heard frustration at the pace of systemic change. I heard fatigue over repeatedly journeying toward a vision of racial justice not yet realized. Collectively, participants expressed a desire to bring transformative change within SPU’s campus culture and to remain in honest dialogue about racism and other justice inequities.
These weren’t easy conversations, but part of the gift of being in Christian community is bearing witness to each other’s stories. I want to thank everyone who shared openly, listened deeply, and suggested ways to take action. I also want to thank each member of the SPU community who sent messages in response to the statements released last week – notably, including those who pointed out ways University leadership could have done better, should have done better.
As a Christian university, we affirm the inherent dignity, beauty, and sanctity of Black lives and take responsibility for addressing patterns of behavior and thought that violate the image of God and dignity of Black personhood. We also know this proclamation is an empty gesture if it does not lead to material change – in policies and procedures, curriculum and instruction, and student resources, among other areas – within SPU’s campus. As we continue to listen and learn, and as we lament society’s brokenness and the ways we have fallen short, we resolve to work across systems to ensure that acts of racism, overt and subtle, have no place at SPU.
Following last week’s listening sessions, President Martin and I had an opportunity to meet with the session co-hosts, debrief what we heard, and identify broad themes and recommendations from the listening sessions.
Here’s what we heard as requests from you directly:
Policies and Procedures
- Enhance Student Handbook policies and procedures to convey clearly that bias, discrimination, and harassment will not be tolerated, and take appropriate disciplinary action against such behavior.
- Create an online portal for students to report incidents of bias, discrimination, or harassment.
- Review student conduct decisions and sanctions to assess for bias and use the data to improve existing processes.
Training for Faculty, Staff, and Student Leaders
- Bolster training for faculty and staff to appropriately respond to student disclosures of experiences of bias, harassment, and discrimination.
- Commit to additional training and support for faculty to diversify the curriculum and to develop skills for facilitating dialogues about race and racism.
- Provide additional training for all staff, focusing on understanding and avoiding microaggressions and developing skills for facilitating dialogues about race and racism.
- Expand microaggressions and anti-racism training for student leaders to prepare them for their role in fostering a climate of belonging at SPU.
- Provide necessary supports to address the unique challenges faced by students of color in leadership positions.
- Foster a sense of belonging for students of color and take appropriate measures to mitigate tokenism.
Curriculum and Instruction
- Ensure that curricula across the disciplines prepare students to critically examine their personal beliefs, attitudes, and biases about historically marginalized people and develop an understanding of racism’s systemic and institutional manifestations.
- Continue the work of program-level diversity, equity, and inclusion plans, with accountability for curricular revision and outcomes assessment.
- Ensure that the General Education Cultural Understanding and Engagement courses are assessed for impact on student learning and identify which actions are needed for improvement to close the assessment loop.
Academic Leadership and Accountability
- Foster greater accountability for culturally inclusive curricula and pedagogy by establishing mechanisms that are faculty-driven and formalized in the promotion and tenure review processes.
- Foster student participation in end-of-term course evaluations and analyze diversity-related course evaluation questions for instructional and curricular improvement.
- Implement ongoing inclusive leadership training for academic deans, department chairs, and program directors to facilitate curricular transformation, recruitment and hiring of diverse faculty, and cultivation of a departmental climate that supports retention of faculty of color.
- Provide culturally relevant support for students seeking advice and information for navigating the university’s Student Conduct Process and grievance procedures related to bias, discrimination, and harassment.
- Provide increased support for international students to integrate them into these conversations and incorporate their experiences.
- Expansion of the mental health resources provided at the Student Counseling Center to better support the needs of students of color and LGBTQIA+ students.
- Continue to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for promoting diversity and inclusion in faculty and staff hires.
Later this month, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) will begin the necessary work of identifying action steps, establishing criteria for prioritizing those actions, and developing a proposed timeline for implementation. Throughout the summer and into the fall, the ODEI will continue to engage members of the campus community to ensure broad consultation and participation. You can expect to receive more information, including opportunities to participate in future forums and action steps, especially as we begin the fall quarter.
As I look at the list of above, I am hopeful – not because I think we have it all figured out; we don’t. Yet, guided by our faith, I believe we will reach beyond our limitations to embrace the limitless possibilities of a redemptive Savior who is inviting us to reconciliation and repair. The work ahead won’t be easy, so I am asking each individual to revisit the list, pray about it, discern where you are being called into deeper engagement, and then choose to be part of the change. This summer, I will be available for one-on-one conversations – to answer questions, to offer resources, and to be in dialogue with you as we begin to imagine a vision forward.
In the coming days, I pray that we will resist the danger of fearful silence and inaction and lean into a reflective and active posture that is attentive to the Spirit’s urging.
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion