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We can do better as a University community

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

A message from UD President Dennis Assanis

Editor's note: President Dennis Assanis shared this message with the University community on June 4.

Dear UD Community,

Our society is calling for equity and social justice. I hear you, and I am part of that call. We can do better as a University community. And we will do it together.

Over the past several days, many of you have written to me or posted your thoughts on social media to express your anger and frustration about the racial injustices that have been laid bare by the social unrest taking place in our nation. What’s more, I have been truly heartbroken to hear the stories of discrimination and prejudice that many of you have experienced, whether in our broader society or, unfortunately, here within our own community. It is so disturbing to see that some individuals do not grasp the insidious nature of racism and the very real pain caused by offensive and exclusionary language.

Every member of our community — students, faculty, and staff — is welcomed and valued at the University of Delaware. We must ensure that everyone is treated with respect and a sense of belonging. We should seek to find commonality, humanity, and civility to bridge our differences. We condemn the discriminatory and inflammatory words used by some members of our community. They do not reflect the University’s values. We are addressing each of these situations in accordance with the University’s conduct and non-discrimination policies.

Last week, the nationwide protests began as a response to the senseless deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky — as well as the long list of other victims of discrimination and violence in American history. The global consciousness that has been reawakened by these tragedies must continue to advance our progress toward a society that is anti-racist and anti-hate. Education lies at the heart of this effort and is the key to real and lasting change.

Without a doubt, the University of Delaware can and must do more to expand diversity and promote inclusion and equity in our community. Since coming to UD, I have tried to face the challenges of history and culture that I see. Indeed, building inclusive excellence has always been personally important to me. While we have made strides in diversifying our faculty ranks and our student enrollment, there is clearly additional work to be done. I am committed — as is my administration — to redoubling our efforts to increase minority representation among our students, faculty and staff. But we know that the numbers are just one component of the equation. We must work ever harder to promote a more inclusive culture throughout UD where everyone is valued and all can expand their potential and believe in a better future.

To this end, I will be working closely with campus leaders to ensure progress and action around key needs of the University. Recognizing that these are both priorities and opportunities to take UD forward, we all need to take the following steps:

  • We need to build a more inclusive culture — Through education for all members of our community, we can cultivate a greater appreciation of the value of diverse peoples, cultures and perspectives. This is absolutely essential in modern society and directly supports our institutional mission to prepare our citizens to succeed. This semester we piloted an online diversity, equity, and inclusion education module. We will plan to require this training of all undergraduate and graduate students beginning in this upcoming academic year.
  • We need to listen and learn — We are planning a series of forums that will span the entire next academic year where all members of our community will have their voices heard and acknowledged. The input gathered at these forums will help inform our next steps as we continue to improve our campus climate with actionable initiatives. We are also mindful of those who have been silent, and we encourage them to come forward and share their stories, perspectives and ideas.
  • We need to act now — We will strengthen our collective awareness of and response to prejudice, diligently recruit underrepresented faculty and students, and raise funds for social justice initiatives on campus. We will also connect our campus-wide efforts and networks into a more robust agenda for larger impact.
  • We need to ensure accountability and operate effectively together as a united community — Everyone is responsible, and this needs to be enforced through renewed policies and practices using a framework where differences are respected and celebrated. We must also ensure that our campus climate and culture assessments are frequent and thorough, and that they reaffirm our commitment to improve the diversity and inclusion landscape at UD.
  • We have more to do — This list is not exhaustive, nor will it ever end. Our work to build a more equitable and inclusive society must be ongoing. We will remain committed to being open, to listening and to working together to make progress possible at UD. We not only welcome your active engagement; we need it. This is a call to action for everyone here now and with ties to UD.

There will be additional steps in the coming weeks and months. I welcome your input as we move forward. Please always feel free to reach out to Michael Vaughan, interim vice provost for diversity and inclusion, at vpd@udel.edu, or José-Luis Riera, vice president for student life, at studentdiversity@udel.edu.

This is an extraordinarily challenging time for all of us. I am inspired by the strength, the caring and the unshakable resolve of the University of Delaware community, and I ask you to join me in recommitting ourselves to ensuring that our institution continues to be a source of pride for all students, all faculty, all staff, all alumni … all people.

Sincerely,

Dennis Assanis, President

 
 

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