Update on efforts to address systemic racism on campus

Dear campus community,

Sparked by heartbreak, outrage, and protests following the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, in June our campus turned inward to address institutional racism in the wake of the recent attacks against Black/African American individuals in our nation. We vowed to develop actionable plans to address systemic racism on our campus in the short-term and long-term.

We have recognized from the outset that we need to understand how the steps and activities I describe below will operate systemically to reduce inequities. So, within that context and framework, we will continue to look at systemic change, not just isolated improvements.

To be a truly inclusive campus, we must have the courage to talk directly about the specifics of discrimination and exclusion, and to create and execute specific ways to combat them. In addition to removing barriers to equity, we also need to shift our frame and center the knowledge, theories and frameworks of those whose work has been central to communities but not necessarily to higher education. 

As we approach the end of the calendar year, I would like to share some highlights about our progress.

Campus Climate

●      We announced the appointment of the Task Force on Community Safety and Policing. Its charge is to examine the critical safety issues of the San José State University campus and the roles the University Police Department and other campus departments, student and community organizations, neighborhood associations and other groups have in ensuring an environment conducive to learning, racial justice and equity. The group already has begun to meet, engage stakeholders in the process and deliberate on issues.

●      We completed our belong@SJSU campus climate for inclusion survey and conducted two virtual town hall meetings where the survey’s key findings were unveiled and summarized. An Executive Summary, Full Report, and a number of presentation slides are available on the survey’s Findings website.

●      We launched the formation of and a nomination process for committee members for the new SJSU Campus Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (CCDEI). This inaugural thirty-two person presidential campus standing committee of students, staff, administrators, faculty and alumni will assess issues of diversity, equity and inclusion at San José State University. The CCDEI will identify equity gaps and make recommendations to me on addressing systemic historical inequities on an annual basis. 

●      In November, SJSU’s Academic Senate approved a resolution that condemns anti-Black racism and systemic racism, and calls for senate actions to promote racial equity.

Training and Education

●      We conducted racial microagression workshops for 92 MPPs that focused on building anti-racist work environments. These important training sessions addressed our campus context, the responsibility of MPPs to create an inclusive work environment, the connection between individual racial microaggressions and systemic racism, skills for addressing racial microaggressions and small group discussions addressing solutions to campus-based scenarios. Additional offerings of this workshop will be provided next semester, including new training for faculty members.

Community-Based Action and Communication

●      Beginning in June, we began to create spaces and mechanisms whereby our campus community members could process the often complex issues of racism, listen to one another and seek understanding of the pain that others may be experiencing. I carefully read all of the letters submitted from many different campus constituencies and have met with many of the groups who wrote to me. Earlier this month, we initiated the first of what will be a series of conversations with both faculty and staff about their collective and personal experiences with racism. We are utilizing all of this information to make the necessary changes to achieve racial justice and equity.

●      We continue to develop a new SJSU website on systemic racism. The website, which we hope to launch in early 2021, will speak to our commitment to building an environment centered around our efforts to become a campus that combats all structures of systemic oppression. It will outline and track various actions and planning efforts taking place, offer resources, and include an archive of campus messages and communications.

Programs and Initiatives

●      A working group of faculty and staff has convened to begin a discussion around what it would look like fully to represent and honor the legacy of our Olympic Project for Human Rights in its totality and as a point of pride and history for SJSU. The Olympic Project, we know, embodies the values SJSU seeks to promote, and reinforces SJSU’s identity as an institution of higher learning committed to social justice.

Leadership

We are building the university’s capacity for advancing racial equity and justice. Specifically, I have charged campus leaders with specific responsibilities and allocated resources to positions in key areas.

●      I tasked members of the President’s Leadership Council to develop action plans that address systemic racism in each of their divisions, departments and campus operations. Initial drafts were completed earlier this month and are currently under review; once refined and completed, implementation will begin. Some things are already in motion.

●      The President’s Leadership Team on Equity and Justice, made up of four members of my Cabinet, has been charged with consulting, coordinating, developing, and implementing strategies to become an anti-racist institution of higher learning. Each of them has hired — or will hire — someone into their area to contribute to the work. 

●      We hired two individuals into the Office of the President who are helping to guide our efforts. Jahmal Williams is now serving as Director of Advocacy for Racial Justice and resides in Community and Government Relations. Patience Bryant is our new Director of Black/African American Equity and resides in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

●      Walt Jacobs, dean of our College of Social Sciences, agreed to serve as Special Assistant to the Provost on Racial Justice Initiatives. In this key role, Dean Jacobs supports creative thinking related to diversifying SJSU’s faculty and convenes faculty leaders to discuss racial diversity and equity issues. He provides counsel and advice related to key investments made to enhance the mission of SJSU as an anti-racist multicultural campus.

We also were happy to welcome Magdalena (Maggie) Barrera as our Interim Vice Provost for Faculty Success. Maggie’s extensive work on campus with diversity issues and her collaborative efforts with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position her well to do great work for us in the Office of the Provost.

●     Our Division of Student Affairs currently is recruiting for a Director of Co-Curricular Learning, Educational Equity, and Assessment. The position aligns the programs and services within the division with the fundamental pursuit of equitable practices, and embeds accountability through the ongoing assessment process. The incumbent will work in concert with the Division’s new Equity and Racial Justice Committee and contribute to and receive the current work of members of the Solidarity Network. We hope to hire for this new position early in 2021.

I value the collective expertise and command of the issues at hand of all those involved in leading our work.

Although there is more to do, we have accomplished much in the last six months. As we head into the extended winter break, please join with me in standing up for our shared values of inclusion, equity, fairness, acceptance and respect.

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