West Virginia University is moving forward with recommendations to address critical and long-standing issues related to racism and inequality on its campuses.
President Gordon Gee announced the creation of “action-oriented” working groups in June in response to the ongoing racial unrest in the country and a letter to the WVU Board of Governors calling for change within the University system.
“We have a responsibility to ensure our campus community reflects the best of us. We are committed to creating a culture free of racism, bias and social injustice,” President Gordon Gee said. “These groups have worked diligently throughout the summer and into the fall, and I support their initial recommendations. I believe they provide a strong foundation to swiftly move forward from words to action.”
The groups, comprised of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, focused on academics, campus environment, campus and community partnerships, development of Black leaders and university policing.
The following lists are action items provided by each working group:
- Create a Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit to provide basic information to assist faculty in understanding issues of diversity and inclusivity along with a guide of resources and best practices for faculty instruction related to diversity topics. A website, maintained in the Provost’s Office, would provide information about programs, training, workshops, events and resources.
- To promote equality and tolerance, and to celebrate the dignity of all people, develop a Diversity Micro-Credentialing Program to allow students to better understand sources of intolerance and hate as they relate to marginalized and underrepresented people.
- Create the WVU Faculty of Color Network to fully engage faculty of color, particularly new faculty, within the broader academic life of the University to improve the campus culture and climate.
“These initial recommendations are the result of very focused work from three subcommittees formed during our review,” committee co-chair and Dean of the College of Creative Arts Keith Jackson said. “They represent ideas ranging from curriculum, faculty, research and graduate education which can be implemented immediately or in the near future.”
Inclusive campus environment
“We were resolved that this group did not want to put forth solutions that do not address the root cause of racism and bias,” Marjorie Fuller, director of WVU’s Center for Black Culture and Research, said. “The only way to affect meaningful change is to address the core issues and dismantle the silos and trappings that keep systemic racism in place.” Fuller, the committee’s co-chair, added that to begin to do that at WVU, three priorities rose to the top: Education, Support and Recruitment.
- Create an environment for learning about diversity by implementing a reading list that addresses diversity and inclusion. The suggested readings would operate similarly to, and in conjunction with, the “Campus Read.”
- Develop an online toolkit for new Black students and employees with messaging specifically designed to help them better acclimate to life at WVU and in Morgantown. Toolkits for additional minority groups will be developed over time.
- Implement a strategic recruitment plan for the recruitment of Black students, and specifically explore partnerships with high schools to create a pathway to the University.
Campus and community partnerships
- Provide online resources to the community to educate on issues surrounding free speech, counter speech and civic engagement; and establish a mandatory training module for faculty, staff and students regarding race and free speech.
- Revise the student code of conduct and the employee code of conduct to address uses of unprotected speech and encourage academic units to include similar provisions in their program’s standards of conduct.
- Adopt a “Principles of Community” statement to set expectations for students and employees as members of the WVU family and prominently include this statement in all advertisements and orientations.
“Today marks an opportunity for WVU as a whole – administration, faculty, staff and students – to intentionally work toward becoming a better institution and campus community than we were yesterday,” committee co-chair and Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Meshea L. Poore said. “It is the goal of the committee that these things will make a difference for current and future Mountaineers and our commitment to the state of West Virginia.”
Development of Black student leaders
- Better prioritize the Mountaineer Volunteer Program, an existing series of workshops that addresses the fundamental challenges to effective volunteering. The Program was created with input from the Student Service Advisory Committee and empowers students by providing, adapting and advancing diversified volunteer service experiences that enhance personal growth and civic-minded development.
- Better support the WVU Social Action Clinic, which seeks to support social change through the use of structured clinics for community-driven students. This year, with guided assistance from a team of experts, the Clinic supported 10 creative and ambitious campus change projects affecting WVU and the surrounding community.
- Use a “personal growth groups” model to develop mentoring opportunities with the goal of imprinting positive and lasting effects on our Black students.
Dean of Students Corey Farris, co-chair of the working group focused on the development of Black leaders, also noted that a renewed sense of empowerment on campus has fostered and encouraged a number of actions including a new student-led anti-racist and gender-inclusive training program from the LGBTQ+ Center and advocacy led by the WVU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee including a recent unity walk in Morgantown. Some football players also chose to display a “BLM” or “UNITY” sticker on their helmets for the home opener which included a moment of silence to acknowledge the inequities that remain.
“I am so proud of the initiative our students have taken to engage in productive programs and peaceful events bringing continued attention to this conversation,” Farris said. “Their willingness to step up and look for ways to make our community a better and more inclusive place shows their commitment – and ultimately may lead them to change the world.”
- Create the WVU Public Safety Oversight and Engagement Committee to provide transparency, vision, guidance to, and oversight of the delivery of public safety services to the University. The Committee will be appointed by the President and consist of students, WVU administration, staff and faculty, community members not affiliated with the University, and an attorney from the WVU Office of General Counsel to serve as a non-voting member.
- Accelerate the level and frequency of training for WVU Police and Office of Emergency Management given the multifaceted role it plays with students and others on campus. Set clear goals and expectations for engagement with an emphasis on establishing and maintaining positive relationships. Explore reinstating a “residence hall” shift and the formation of a student advisory board to serve as a sounding board for issues and concerns related to public safety.
- Increase funding and allocate additional resources to the WVU CARE Team which currently represents a collaborative of social services on campus to support the safety and wellbeing of students and the University community. This would include a campaign to improve awareness of the CARE Team’s mission, expand services to exist on a 24/7 framework and develop a short- and long-term plan to better integrate UPD and the operations of the CARE Team.
“The conversations were not always comfortable but it was very gratifying to see everyone involved come to the table with the best of intentions and a willingness to listen,” committee co-chair Hannah Davis, president of the Omicron Upsilon chapter of Delta Sigma Theta and vice president of the WVU chapter of National Pan-Hellenic Council, said. “It’s clear that everyone wants to work together to make our campus a safer, better place.”
The groups will continue to gather and work on additional ideas even as the initial recommendations are implemented. WVU encourages students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community to submit suggestions.
“This is not a strategic plan for addressing racism. This is a commitment to ongoing action. We are not done,” Gee said. “I look forward to continued dialogue with and feedback from our campus and the community.”
The University is planning events to continue the conversation and receive additional feedback. Details will be released in the coming weeks.
While work continues on these initiatives, the University has already moved forward in other areas:
- In late June, the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Athletics, RISE WVU, LGBTQ+ Center and Student Engagement & Leadership partnered to form a mentoring program for students of color.
- In July, WVU’s Board of Governors welcomed Dr. Patrice Harris as its newest member. Harris is a three-time WVU graduate who just completed her term as the first African-American woman president of the American Medical Association.
- The WVU Intercollegiate Department of Athletics developed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee.
- New racial justice grants awarded by the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences support research for social justice initiatives that will engage with the community.
- The Carruth Center has created a new position to work with students of color and made available specific support and resources for Black students.
- WVU’s Diversity Week (Oct. 11-17) is well underway with events and programming addressing racial injustice.
- The 2020-21 Festival of Ideas lecture series is focused on issues including police reform, race relations in America and systemic racism.
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