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Recap: Towards an Anti-Racist University Virtual Roundtable

June 28, 2021

A slide from the "Towards an Anti-Racist University" roundtable presentation.
A slide from the "Towards an Anti-Racist University" roundtable presentation.

As a reflection of Drexel University’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution, faculty and professional staff are required this year to complete a new Diversity and Inclusion (DEI) enterprise learning module to explore and identify ways to advance the University’s Culture of Inclusion and Belonging. Two additional roundtable discussions on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at Drexel have also been created to expand on that topic, with the first, “Towards an Anti-Racist University,” held on June 23.

During that virtual roundtable, key leaders from across the University and Drexel's Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF) discussed the University’s anti-racism efforts from the past year and explained future developments related to the task force and its soon-to-be-released report. The over 130 faculty and professional staff who attended the event were also split into different roundtables — Zoom breakout rooms, due to the nature of the event — related to key areas of the University.

“The murder of George Floyd was really a tipping point that amplified what many of our students, faculty and professional staff had been increasingly sharing over the years,” said Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusive Culture Patience Ajoff-Foster. “I think it really presented a moment for our institution to reflect on our systems, our policies and our structures in a different and frankly, in a new way. And because this learning journey is new for all of us, we wanted to provide this opportunity for University leaders to engage and to reflect on our anti-racism journey over the past year.”

Ajoff-Foster spoke at the event to provide a high-level overview of anti-racist developments at Drexel. School of Education Associate Professor of Education and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Graduate Studies Aroutis Foster, PhD, who is one of the four co-chairs of the ARTF, also provided background information and updates related to the task force.

That extensive group of faculty, professional staff and students was created in the summer of 2020 to evaluate and dismantle racism in University policies and practices. Over the past year, those 120 Dragons from 30 different colleges, schools and administrative offices worked in 11 sub-committees to determine ways in which the University could bring about positive institutional change. Over 200 recommendations were created, which were presented to University leaders including President John Fry; Executive Vice President and Nina Henderson Provost Paul Jensen, PhD; Executive Vice President, Treasurer and Chief Operating Officer Helen Bowman; and other leaders of units that will be responsible for the implementation of those recommendations, some of whom attended and led the roundtables at the virtual event.

“We're synthesizing the final reports from the 11 subcommittees that the University leadership saw and we're in the process of developing an Anti-Racism Task Force website where you will see all the information needed as it relates to the report, current progress and where we are now and where we want to go in the future as a University,” said Foster.

Some additional next steps of the ARTF include releasing a final report of findings and recommendations, creating a DEI Advisory Council at the University and sending out a University-wide climate survey.

During the roundtables, the hosts shared their own “crucible moment” from the past year or their past experiences that have impacted their leadership and/or approach to anti-racism. They also guided discussions and answered questions from the faculty and professional staff gathered in those breakout rooms.

“Our journey towards anti-racism only works if it is personal,” said Ajoff-Foster. “That's the only way we can both sustain our individual and institutional commitment towards anti-racism. And as a part of that, we all continue to learn and grow in humility because this is all new to Drexel.”

The June 23 event was created through a new initiative from Human Resources in which the online and asynchronous mandatory enterprise learning modules are supplemented with optional and additional ways for people to meet to discuss those topics. During the winter term, for example, several roundtables were held for faculty and professional staff to engage in learning more about cybersecurity compliance. This summer, two roundtables will be held related to DEI; in addition to the June 23 event, an additional event, “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Drexel” will be held on July 21 to discuss DEI efforts at Drexel and how they relate to the University’s mission and strategy. Interested faculty and professional staff can sign up to attend that event through Career Pathway.

The six different roundtables that reflected the themes of the ARTF recommendations were:

  • Addressing Potential Biases in Recruitment
    • Roundtable hosts: Senior Vice Provost of Faculty Advancement and Undergraduate Affairs and School of Education Professor Erin McNamara Horvat, PhD, and Senior Vice President for Enrollment Management Evelyn Thimba.
    • Theme description [as noted in the presentation]: “Address potential implicit biases in systems, policies, planning groups, leaders and leadership groups, and in how we recruit and advance students, faculty and staff.”
  • Fostering a Culture of Anti-Racism Through Learning and Education
    • Roundtable hosts: ARTF Co-Chair, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Kimberly Gholston and Executive Vice Provost for Research & Innovation Aleister Saunders, PhD.
    • Theme description: “Take race into account across the board and acknowledge harm and disparities to build learning opportunities in support of change. That includes in our strategic plan: ‘society’s most pressing challenges’ includes systemic racism.”
  • Policies and Systems
    • Roundtable hosts: Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Megan Weyler and Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life Katie Zamulinsky.
    • Theme description: “Policies and systems will need to be changed. The process should be intentional and visible.”
  • Adequate Staffing and Resource Allocation
    • Roundtable hosts: Senior Vice President for Student Success Subir Sahu, PhD, and Chief Strategy Officer, Senior Vice President for Graduate and Online Education, Dean of the Graduate College and the College of Medicine’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Students Elisabeth Van Bockstaele, PhD.
    • Theme description: “Adequately staff offices that set the institutional culture and/or are designed to protect and support people of color: OED, Student Life, mental health and counseling, Provost’s office, communications.”
  • Faculty Diversity and Curriculum Revisions
    • Roundtable hosts: Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Shivanthi Anadan, PhD, and Executive Vice President and Nina Henderson Provost Paul Jensen, PhD.
    • Theme description: “Build more diversity in the faculty and revise the curriculum in ways that reflect student interest and advance the University’s mission and strategic plan.”
  • Business Practices and Community Engagement
    • Roundtable hosts: Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer Julie Jones and Senior Vice Provost for University and Community Partnerships Lucy Kerman, PhD.
    • Theme description: “Ensure that our institutional practices around business and community engagement create access and opportunity for neighbors in a way that is genuinely Anti-Racist and does no harm.”