Dear Campus Community,
Over the past few weeks, the outpouring of support for the African American community has taken various forms – peaceful protests, hanging signs in windows and showing solidarity through social media posts.
There is no doubt that these are turbulent times for our nation, and I know there have been recent conversations about NKU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Rather than draft a written message, I thought it was best to share my thoughts in a video.
Please view my video below.
Dear campus community,
These past several months have been trying for our community and our country and these past few weeks have been especially troubling.
Our African-American communities all across the country are hurting, not only from the disproportionate effects of the pandemic, but also the constant painful and lethal effects of systemic racism.
Over the past few months, three African Americans were unjustly killed while doing everyday activities and In the case of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, murder charges have been filed. Breonna Taylor was shot multiple times and killed in her apartment while she was asleep. I joined millions of Americans and citizens from around the world in condemning these horrific acts.
We must acknowledge the hurt and outrage that so many of us are feeling especially our Black students, staff, faculty and alumni.
This week I, along with some of the NKU leadership team, met separately with the Black Faculty and Staff Association, the Black Alumni Council and with our student group NKU rocks to hear from them and what they're experiencing. Setting aside their own pain, tiredness and emotion both the BFSA and the Alumni Council were focused on what we could do to support our Black students. And the students. Words can't describe our wonderful students. They took the time to offer thoughtful and meaningful ideas to enhance their sense of belonging on campus and even checked to make sure that my team and I were doing okay. While the mood was heavy with sadness, frustration and anger, I was deeply moved by the pain and hurt that they are experiencing. My emotions got the better of me which rarely happens. But it is 2020 and our society's progress towards addressing systemic and blatant racism has been far too slow.
We cannot sit silent in the face of these injustices. We must do more.
Structural racism is a force that pervades all aspects of American life. From the economy to education. From public health to criminal justice.
As a public university our mission is to provide access to quality affordable education to our students. As educators it is our duty to help our students learn about the corrosive effects of structural racism in our society.
So what are some of these effects?
We live in a country where the median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family. Where Black unemployment has historically run twice as high as White unemployment, even after accounting for educational levels. To our business and industry leaders, I say we must address these disparities. Black employment matters.
These disparities continue in the realm of public health. Black infants are two-and-a-half times more likely to die than White infants, and Black women are four times more likely to die that from pregnancy than White women. Black adults are 40% more likely to die from a stroke than White adults and are 25% more likely to die from heart disease than White adults. We cannot let this gulf continue. Black health matters.
We live in a country where Black students face disparities for their entire, K-12 education. Black students have less access to Advanced Placement and Honors Classes. They are less likely to be college ready than White students, and of particular concern for us at NKU the six-year graduation rate for all students is 48% but for Black students, it's only 38%. It is imperative we close the achievement gap. Black education matters.
The same inequities continue in the criminal justice system. In Kentucky while Whites make up 86% of the population, they make up 64% of those incarcerated. While Blacks make up 8% of the population, 29% of those are incarcerated. Nationally, Blacks receive sentences, they're almost 10% longer than those comparable Whites arrested for the same crime. When you control for population, Blacks are almost three times more likely to be killed by police than Whites. We cannot set idle in the face of these inequalities. Black justice matters.
It is within this context of persistent and systemic racism that we hear the statement, "Black lives matter." Not as an exclusionary statement, not at the cost of others's achievement, but as a way to focus our collective attention to the in-equities and the injustices that our Black communities face every day. As a way to remind us to value their humanity and work together to tackle bias and discrimination for a more equitable and just society. And because Black lives DO matter.
Let us pledge to educate ourselves in our region to acknowledge and address structural racism and become allies in the fight for social justice.
We must stand firm on our core values. Especially, the value of fostering a community of belonging by embracing diversity, equity and inclusiveness. To do less, is to abdicate our fundamental role as a university. Committed to not only the progress of our students but also the progress of our community, state and nation.
In the midst of such a painful and troubling time in our nation's history, a social media post was made by an incoming first-year student that explicitly implies racial superiority.
The reaction was swift and heated. Many of you have shared the hurt and anger you felt when you read that post. The petition asking that the student's offer of admission be rescinded garnered over 12K, signatures.
Even before seeing all the emails and the petition, the thought of rescinding the offer of admission to the student crossed my mind. I found that the post showed an alarming lack of empathy and was both horrifying and demeaning. But then I was reminded of a couple of things: NKU serves nearly 15,000 students who come to us from all walks of life, many with diverse perspectives and lived experiences. Our task is to challenge these students to expand their worldview, examine critically the values they embrace and help deepen their understanding of the values required for a democracy to thrive and be sustained.
For NKU and all public universities, the challenge is how best to balance our commitment to inclusion with our requirement to uphold the principles of free speech. The language and the social media post, as hurtful and offensive as it was, is protected by the First Amendment.
Nonetheless, because I believe in the power of the NKU experience to expand horizons Deepen insights and broaden perspectives, as well as our commitment to free speech, we are not rescinding the offer of admission to the student. For many of you this decision will be extremely disappointing and disheartening. I hear your pain and anguish and it matters to me.
We are an amazing University with the diverse administration students and faculty. Our diversity is one of our strengths and our willingness to work together one of our greatest assets.
Moving forward we commit to the following:
· In the fall, we will adopt diversity, equity and inclusion goals based on the recommendations of the Inclusive Excellence Council.
· I will ensure that every member of the president's cabinet and council including myself, be held accountable for working within and across divisions to implement those goals.
· We will implement implicit bias training for all senior administrative faculty and staff search committees and provide diversity and cultural competency training for all administrators, faculty and staff.
· During the next academic year, we will have a common reading experience for incoming first-year students that includes diversity, equity and inclusion.
· We will update and release the campus bias incident response process and procedures for responding to complaints.
· We will continue to collaborate with the Kentucky Council in post-secondary education to support diversity and inclusion programs that provide training for faculty, staff and students.
· We will organize and facilitate town hall meetings and "Lunch and Learn" sessions to foster opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue.
· We will send faculty and staff monthly updates sharing the university's work and strategies under development.
· We will partner with the Black Alumni Council to develop programs that support our career and community engagement strategies.
· We will convene the chief diversity officers from eight colleges and universities located in the greatest Cincinnati region to leverage our resources and use our collective voice to make an impact on equity, racism and social justice in the region.
To paraphrase the words of one of our African-American faculty, "I feel pain, exhaustion, heavy emotion, disappointment and confliction. But I also feel hopeful that we can move forward with contemplation, accountability, commitment and understanding."
I have faith in NKU and in all who serve on its behalf. These are turbulent times for our campus and for our society, but out of this turbulence, we will emerge an even stronger institution better able to serve our mission and fulfill our vision. After all, we are a dedicated and determined Norse Nation.