President’s Response to the Collective Letter to the Administration, 6/18/20

President's Response to the Collective Letter to the Administration, 6/18/20

Dear members of the Drew community,

Thank you for your collective letter, which we received on Monday, June 15. In the Zoom meeting held June 4, as well as through email, social media, and other listening sessions, you have brought to light real and legitimate concerns and have painfully recounted the effects of racism in our community. You’ve rightly asked for accountability, leadership, and change. We hear you, and we are deeply affected by the individual and collective anguish you have experienced and have expressed. As leaders, and with our colleagues, we have fallen short of our mission to promote equality and respect in our Drew community and in our communities beyond The Forest—and we recognize that we have not done enough to foster a climate of zero tolerance for racist behavior, and have not consistently reflected on how privilege impacts our behavior. For this, we apologize to all the members of our Black community and pledge to do better.

We know, too, that this community, and particularly Black members of this community, need more than simply talk. We are committed to leading Drew in efforts toward sustainable solutions that address and eliminate racism in our community, and that allow those who are harmed by racist action to seek justice. We listened and read, and are inspired by what we are learning. Our work now is to articulate our leadership’s plans to meet the demands and imperatives you have put forth in your letter. This necessary work is extensive and will be ongoing. Some work is immediate, while other efforts will require time to take shape and build, and we will welcome the partnership and input of multiple constituencies as this work evolves. All of the changes we make, whether in the short or long term, will be better for having heard and listened to your voices. And we intend to keep listening and working together to ambitiously meet our goals.

Here now, we offer this initial response to the imperatives expressed both in the Zoom meeting of June 4 and through the collective letter, all of which we agree with in principle. Our responses are presented in the order in which they were set forth in your letter. It is our hope that we may come together around concrete actions that allow leadership to “walk the walk” in this important re-starting point for ongoing, purposeful discussions, accountability, and change.

Active Support
To learn and improve, there must be an opportunity to listen. As a community, we are better positioned to act on what we learn when those opportunities exist beyond those that are organized in the wake of a tragedy. To ensure that Drew is continuously supporting its students of color, we commit to monthly open meetings to not only discuss our progress but also to engage with each other on matters that better our community. VP Merckx will work with the student governments of all schools to set agendas, extend invitations to the student community and other administrators, and hold these monthly open meetings beginning in July 2020.

Academics

Competency and Training
You have called for required cultural competency and anti-racism training for all students and employees. University leadership is committed to a sustained, integrated, ongoing cycle of training, beyond what occurs in orientation and new-employee training programs. To start we will institute deeper training as part of those orientation experiences, beginning this year. We also plan to reinstate periodic campus climate surveys, which will allow the administration to respond to specific issues raised from these data, and to ensure that our progress is measured and that community actions are responsive to current needs. To augment and extend orientation training, we will also work to develop and implement learning opportunities in appropriate required, credit-bearing general education courses that touch all students in the CLA, and will work with Theological and Caspersen School leadership to identify the appropriate places for such learning opportunities in their curricula. This approach, and places in the curriculum where students think it makes the most sense for this kind of integration to happen, will be discussed in future monthly open meetings. The administrators responsible for follow-through of these commitments are President Baenninger, Provost Lakin, and VP Merckx.

Pan-African Studies
We are deeply committed to strengthening and reinvigorating the Pan-African Studies major and minor, and acknowledge that our students deserve an opportunity to be educated in the vast and rich Black intellectual tradition. We will take immediate steps to provide programmatic support in this area, including ensuring that courses that have historically been a part of the major and minor are offered on a regular basis. We will also coordinate the significant faculty resources and expertise that exist at Drew across all three schools to revise the program in ways that reflect students’ interests and needs, and plan to do so in partnership with new full-time faculty members who will supplement this existing expertise and contribute core courses and thought leadership to the program. In the fall, we will have conversations with current faculty members with aligned interests about the specifics of this faculty hiring. We welcome student involvement in those conversations. Provost Lakin and the school deans will be responsible for implementing both the short-term and long-term aspects of this commitment.

Reevaluation of Syllabi
You have asked that the faculty reevaluate their syllabi to ensure that Black thinkers and the experiences of Black people are not relegated to a “special topic of the week.” We agree, and have asked Provost Lakin and the academic leadership team to take on the responsibility of ensuring that this sort of work takes place across the curricula of all three schools. This will require the partnership and collaboration of the faculty as a whole, and will take time to implement as the team undertakes a thorough analysis of needs while also managing issues related to academic freedom and disciplinary distinctions and requirements. This is an intentional commitment to the kind of professional development that supports faculty in their efforts to teach their courses using inclusive pedagogy and to actively engage with students on issues of race and racism in their courses. Some of this work can be supported with internal expertise, but we can also secure outside expertise as necessary.

Student Engagement & Activities

Day-to-Day Engagement
We acknowledge and agree that key to mutual understanding of community needs is continual engagement between administrators and the student body. In order to facilitate opportunities to engage, we suggest including in our monthly open meetings a list of upcoming events at which it would be appropriate to have faculty and administrators attend. Drew is extremely fortunate to have a dedicated staff on our collaborative team who act as critical liaisons between the students whom they serve and the administrative leaders to whom they report. These vital staff members often engage with and participate in day-to-day activities due to the very nature and responsibilities of their jobs. We agree with the sentiments expressed regarding MLK Day, especially in the reflections that this past year’s program focused on the Launch communities instead of the transformative work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We will work with student leaders in monthly open meetings, along with staff and faculty, to chart a better path to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King, and how it can inform and inspire our own evolution as a community. We believe that the BSU should play a central leadership role in developing this programming.

BSU Budget
We remain committed to funding the BSU, while also recognizing a communication error that we believe led to a student leadership misunderstanding regarding budget allocations available to BSU each semester. We have put steps in place to rectify the situation. The Office of Student Engagement will work directly with the leaders of the BSU on their funding needs immediately.

Campus Speakers
We understand the frustration expressed regarding the belief that there is a lack of Black speakers/scholars for speaking engagements on campus. The administration, through the President’s office, has been and remains very committed to engaging a diverse group of speakers, and in particular Black and Brown speakers. We have already prioritized Black speakers with our funding organization. While we have had internationally known Black speakers in recent years, we have been disappointed that many of the invitations we’ve extended have not been accepted by the speakers, despite meeting all of their contractual booking requirements. We would be happy to share with students the names of those whom we have invited, and to include student representation among those who choose University-wide speakers. We also want to recognize the significant intellectual leadership provided by our Theological School, who regularly features Black thinkers and activists in their speaker series and events. The President regularly holds conversations with small groups of students to take speaker suggestions for both the Forum series and Commencement; we aim to formalize this process for the coming year and plan to add this to agendas of monthly open sessions. (Please note, some of these plans are impacted by state mandates about how we can operate this fall in response to the global pandemic.) We believe, however, that involvement from student leadership could possibly make a difference in recruitment efforts to bring these speakers to campus. The Provost’s Office and the Office of Student Engagement will continue to stress to departmental and club leaders the importance of considering diverse voices and extending speaking engagement offers to individuals of color as well.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office
You have called for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office to be fully present for all members of the Drew community. We have started the process of a reconsideration of the structure of this office and its functions. Acknowledging that diversity, equity, and inclusion is the job of all administrators and faculty, the plan emerging for a new structure is to have two positions of leadership in this area: a senior diversity officer, working with Human Resources and the President’s Office, to focus on increasing diversity among faculty and staff, providing quality training for faculty and staff, ensuring that the community remains free from bias, and developing systems for holding those who exhibit racism and bias accountable. The second leadership role is to work with and mentor students and to create programming for a diverse and inclusive environment, including a focus on Black students’ experience, interests, and needs. The President and VP Merckx are responsible for following through on the restructuring of these responsibilities. They will take into account the comments set forth in your collective letter regarding this position and the office, as well as information shared by student leaders with VP Merckx during the spring semester, and we will seek additional student engagement in the process.

Representation

Faculty and Staff Diversity
We agree that to truly be a diverse university, we must be diverse in our employees. This is reinforced in our commitment to restructure the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office with a prioritization on increasing diversity among faculty and staff. We must prioritize both hiring and retaining a diverse faculty and staff. Please note that a few of the specific items laid out in the letter require major action and further in-depth conversation; we’d like to dedicate future open sessions in their entirety to addressing these concerns. In the interim, there are two areas that we can address now: We’ve asked the athletic director to articulate a plan, particularly in the area of assistant coaches where there is more fluid hiring, to increase diversity among the athletic staff. Concerning the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, in the short term we will seek a part-time counselor who represents the community our Black students seek—as we have done in Health Services—and we will continue to prioritize recruiting additional staff of color.

Presidential Search Committee
We are committed to involving the full community in the highest levels of decision-making at Drew, especially when the time comes for us to begin our search for a new full-term president. As expressed in the letter to Student Government representatives from the trustee chair of the interim search committee, the Board secured the commitment of dedicated faculty and staff members, representing all three schools and including diverse perspectives and ideas, to participate in this search process, which is different from the search process that would exist for a full-term president. One of the interim president’s first priorities when beginning their tenure at Drew will be to speak to Student Government representatives from all three schools. At the point at which we are ready to begin the search for a permanent president, the Board of Trustees will take all of your suggestions under advisement and will work with students across all three schools during that process.

Administrative Duties

Public Safety
The safety and security of the entire Drew community is our top priority. Over the last 18 months, Drew has been actively engaged in the assessment of Public Safety and recognizes that our current model does not reflect the direction desired by the administration. These assessments were informed by students via listening sessions and individual recounting of their experiences. It is now time for Drew to pivot from a law-enforcement model of public safety to a campus security model that is firmly grounded in community engagement and service. This revised model will also allow for students to be employed in and complete internships with the reimagined campus security unit. At this time, we are finalizing our plans for this shift, and you should expect to receive a community announcement by July 1 from VP Merckx. We recognize that every community member shares the responsibility for maintaining a safe and secure campus, just as every member must feel free to be present on campus without feeling singled out or harassed. With these impending changes, we reinforce our student-centered focus in our shared residential, living-learning community, where campus security team members are educators and community builders. You can expect regular avenues for communication beginning later this summer.

Policy Enforcement
Through the Human Rights policy, Drew prohibits community members from engaging in verbal, physical, or other behaviors that create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or learning environment, particularly based on a person’s identity. The University’s definition of harassment as stated in Daniel’s Dictionary includes “epithets, slurs, jokes, negative stereotyping or threatening, intimidating or hostile acts.” We are committed to enforcing policies for the use of racial slurs, especially by those in positions of authority. Beginning now, racist altercations may be reported using our updated Bias or Hate Based Incident Reporting Form, which is accessible via drew.edu/treehouse under Student Services. Associate Dean Will Petrick will ensure that all reports are acted upon via the appropriate university policy and process, and engage with student leadership to evaluate and update the form regarding its effectiveness.

Community of Madison
We recognize that some students experience strong negative reactions when engaging with the Madison community. We know that the display of Blue Lives Matter flags is only one of many concerning issues. We are committed to our positive and cooperative community relationship with Madison Borough and aim to strengthen it by engaging with borough representatives at least once a semester through open sessions with students, beginning this fall. To the issue of the Blue Lives Matter flag, we reached out to our colleagues in Madison Borough, who informed us that this flag was removed from the borough’s flag rotation in May of 2018 after receiving feedback from the community.

Thank you once again for bringing these imperatives to our attention. The purpose of this work is to create a campus community that is committed to anti-racism, anti-Black bias, and to celebrating the amazing diversity that is Drew. The measures proposed by you, and agreed to or augmented by the leadership team, are grounded in our belief that our diversity is our strength. To achieve the safe and affirming community of living, learning, and growth for our Black community members, we need the support, commitment, and collaboration of the entire Drew community. We know the University will grow stronger and more equitable for each member of our diverse community as a result of our collaboration, and we welcome opportunities to dialogue through forums and open sessions as we set out to do this work. Implementing these recommendations is the right thing to do. They will make our community stronger.

We, along with other members of the Board of Trustees and the administration, look forward to discussing our responses in the Town Hall conversation we’re scheduling for next week. Details will be shared soon.

Sincerely,
MaryAnn Baenninger, President
William W. Landis III, Chair of the Drew Board of Trustees