Report on Race & Social Justice
April 15, 2015
As we prepare to celebrate Social Justice Week (April 15 – April 22), I am writing to follow up on Drexel’s plans to engage in the national conversation on race and justice. In December, I asked Interim Provost James Herbert and Vice Provost Lucy Kerman to consider how Drexel should respond to the many concerns that were being expressed on university campuses about the state of race relations and criminal justice in this country. Their report offered a number of concrete suggestions, and I am glad to share my thoughts about some next steps.
Finally, I recognize that, even as we talk about national issues of concern, we must also devote our attention as a community to reflecting on and discussing Drexel’s own culture, and whether it is as diverse and welcoming as it should be. We have already taken many important steps to reinforce Drexel’s commitment to diversity. As Associate Vice President and Title IX Coordinator in the Office of Equality and Diversity, Michele Rovinsky-Mayer has a leadership role in advancing institutional policies and enforcing our Title IX responsibilities. There are active groups providing programming for diverse faculty and students, and committees explicitly focused on recruiting diverse faculty members and considering issues around faculty retention. Our Strategic Plan includes a goal specifically around diversity in the context of the new development and our neighborhood initiatives, and I have convened a special Economic Inclusion Committee, which focuses on Drexel’s strong commitment to economic inclusion in our business practices, and tracks our progress with inclusion – particularly for local West Philadelphia residents and businesses – in hiring, procurement, and construction.
At the same time, I appreciate that our community does not always feel sufficiently welcoming to all of its members. Some of our students – members of American minorities, international students, students with diverse life styles – at times feel uncomfortable on campus, facing "micro-aggressions" and "micro-inequalities,” the daily wear and tear of feeling uncomfortable, different, and sometimes stigmatized in a culture that can feel alienating. This sense of discomfort extends at times to our faculty and professional staff as well.
Addressing Drexel’s culture is both difficult and critically important. I have asked Michele to organize a standing subcommittee, as part of the Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Committee and with representation from all constituencies, to explicitly monitor Drexel’s culture and report to me quarterly on our progress creating a welcoming culture on campus. There are a number of issues to consider, including whether we adequately address diversity training in our student and employee orientation programs, whether our faculty are prepared to address the growing — and welcome — diversity in their classes, and whether our normal institutional practices are sensitive and appropriate. Michele will also create a virtual “suggestion box” that regularly invites members of the Drexel community to share any concerns and discomforts, knowing that they will be taken seriously.
We believe that openly acknowledging the complexity of these issues, both nationally as well as on campus, will go a long way toward reassuring our community that Drexel is a place that is genuinely committed to its mission and to fostering a culture that is welcoming and respectful to all.
John A. Fry