Update on Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives

To: The W&L Community
From: President Will Dudley
Date: Feb. 26, 2021

Last summer I wrote to reemphasize our commitment to diversity and inclusion, and to draw your attention to specific actions we have taken toward making the university a place where all of our students, faculty and staff can thrive.  This work has continued unabated this academic year despite the extraordinary challenges of the pandemic.  Today I want to provide an update on our progress and introduce some new steps that we have taken since the summer.

Recent Actions

I am pleased to announce the creation of a new position, the associate provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion.  This member of the provost’s leadership team will provide vision and direction to advance a culture of diversity and inclusion across academic affairs, and to coordinate the DE&I initiatives developed by academic departments and programs.  The associate provost will also support curricular and scholarly opportunities for local, national, and international engagement.

Dean Lena Hill, who begins her service as provost on July 1, will commence the search for the new associate provost in the coming weeks, with the intention of making an appointment prior to Fall Term.  She will also organize the search for the next dean of the Law School in the coming months.  The search for the dean of the College is underway and on schedule.

The Faculty Antiracism Plan Committee is now constituted and at work.  Among its first important contributions will be an assessment of how our efforts with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion are currently distributed across a number of committees and working groups.  This will help to orient the new associate provost, who will strive to ensure that our collective energies on these issues are deployed as effectively as possible.

W&L has become a founding member of the new Liberal Arts Colleges Racial Equity Leadership Alliance.  Each month, we will send eight faculty and staff members to join colleagues from liberal arts colleges across the country to discuss common challenges and promising ideas.  Participants will then offer open sessions for the W&L community to share lessons learned.  I attended the first gathering of LACRELA presidents this week and will meet with that group quarterly.  LACRELA will also conduct annual surveys that enable us to gauge our progress and identify areas in need of improvement.

We have added a permanent section to the university website to make it easier to find information about the many aspects of our work toward greater diversity and inclusion.  I encourage you to return to it regularly for news, updates, and reports.

Ongoing Initiatives

There is much to say about the development of our ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Admissions season is not yet complete, but the indicators at this stage are positive.  The diversity of the undergraduate class through early decision is even greater than in recent years, which already set high water marks at the university.  We enrolled 33% more QuestBridge students this year, and the Johnson finalist group has never been more diverse.  Law school applications are up 20%, with comparable growth among underrepresented populations.

The Office of Admissions added a Spanish-speaking counselor who also has responsibilities for assisting with first-generation student recruitment.  The Law School is currently interviewing for a position in Admissions and Student Affairs focused on diversity recruitment and engagement.

Faculty hiring continues to build upon the momentum of the last four years.  From 2017-2020, 46.5% of faculty hires have been people of color.  30% of tenure-track hires in this period have been underrepresented minorities, including 21% who are African American.  The new Civil Rights and Racial Justice clinic will launch at the Law School in the fall.  Our inaugural Ted DeLaney postdoctoral fellow has accepted a three-year visiting appointment in Cognitive and Behavioral Science beginning next year, and we are in the process of recruiting the next three DeLaney Fellows for the 2021-22 academic year.

The General Education Development Committee is leading faculty in conversations about how our required curriculum can best serve our mission.  The Law School curriculum committee is having similar discussions about legal education.  The Teaching Evaluation Committee is examining best practices for evaluating teaching in ways that are meaningful and equitable.

The diversity and inclusion training we provide to students, faculty, and staff is being assessed by a task force created by the University Committee on Inclusiveness and Campus Climate.  The task force will deliver recommendations by the end of this term for improving training for all members of our community.  Nearly 100 faculty members have completed implicit bias training in conjunction with their service on search committees this year.

The Office of Inclusion and Engagement is fully staffed, with the addition of two Assistant Directors of Inclusion and Engagement and a Program Coordinator.  We can now provide more dedicated support of LBGTQ+ and DACA students.  Our Safe Zone Ally Training has been revised and is available to any campus group, office, or department upon request.  We are currently interviewing for a new position -- Director of the Counseling Center – that will expand our services in this critical area.

The Harte Center for Teaching and Learning in Leyburn Library will open this fall.  The Center for Inclusion and Engagement in Elrod Commons will begin construction this summer and open the following fall.  OIE, the Harte Center, Africana Studies, and Academic Technologies have partnered this year on "Exploring Anti-Racist Initiatives in Higher Education," in which participants discuss best practices related to institutional innovation.  The library has created resource collections related to antiracism and to Native American peoples.

Co-curricular programming has been extraordinary this year:  a silver lining of virtual operations has been the ability to make a larger number and wider variety of speakers available to students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and attendance has been strong at these events.  The year-long Africana Studies series on "Activism and Black Life" continues this term and has been complemented by special events for Martin Luther King week and Black History month.  Institutional History is developing educational programs on the Lost Cause, and in partnership with the Working Group on the History of African-Americans has engaged a genealogist to learn more about the descendants of the people enslaved at Washington College in the 19th century and about Black employees at W&L in the early 20th century.  The Native American Cohort is sponsoring a yearlong celebration of Native American heritage.  The Office of Alumni Engagement offered an impressive and well-attended fall term series on "Prejudice, Discrimination, and Anti-Racism," and just last night hosted an engaging program on "African Americans at the Heart of Institutional History," featuring Lena Hill and Lynn Rainville.

Students are contributing in important ways as well.  The Student Association for Black Unity hosted its second Black Future Leaders Experience conference in October, and will host a talk by Bakari Sellers, attorney and CNN political commentator on Feb. 28.  Students also founded the Perry Minority Athlete Coalition -- named for Tony Perry '77, the first African-American inductee to the W&L Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995 -- which is dedicated to enhancing the sense of community for minority students.

Looking Ahead

When I wrote to you last summer, I noted that advancing diversity and inclusion at W&L would require determined and sustained effort on many fronts, and it is clear that there are tremendous communal efforts underway across the university to make W&L better for everyone.  Knowing this community, I expect nothing less, but I am grateful for each of your contributions. We will continue to translate our priorities into actions, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.