UConn Update on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

UConn has trimmed millions of dollars from its budget, but still faces challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. (UConn Photo)

To the UConn Community:

We write to you at both a defining moment for our country and a time of momentous opportunity for our University. This summer, the United States has witnessed the largest demonstrations in our history, with as many as 26 million Americans taking to the streets of our cities and towns in support of a clear and focused demand for justice and a sustained recognition that we cannot, through inaction, allow the status quo to persist – such silence is violence.

Although we haven’t been physically present on our campuses since March, we are proud to note that UConn students and faculty have not shirked from this historic moment, joining protests and efforts at reformative justice in their hometowns, and participating in innovative online and remote initiatives aimed at righting longstanding wrongs.

As a major research university, we have an additional, special role to play, as we bring this striving for justice into our historic missions of teaching and research, and incorporate it into our daily lives on campus.  At UConn, we have committed ourselves to matching our words with concrete, real-world actions that touch on every unit and facet of the University.

One example of this commitment is a professional development retreat scheduled for the fall for 44 top leaders of the university with Robin DiAngelo, the antiracism scholar whose White Fragility has become a much-discussed book during this moment. This retreat will help University leadership come to grips with the critical questions of racism and inclusion, and to bring those insights back to our campuses.

Another example is a new University course on Anti-Black Racism, that will be offered starting in Fall 2020, following on the success of the Spring 2020 course launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While not a required course, it garnered the largest enrollment in the history of the University, and we expect and fully encourage the entire community to repeat that embrace of this new course.

Most importantly, the design of this course and its implementation are being led by faculty and staff who are scholars and thought leaders on campus to ensure we are highlighting the work of those already providing voice to these issues at UConn.

This is what we do best as a University – we teach, and we learn.  Through education and scholarship we address the needs of our students to understand and contextualize the world around us, empower them with that knowledge, and address the misperceptions that underlie bias and bigotry. 

Much more has taken place over the summer, and we want to share some of that progress:

  • Last month, the UConn Humanities Institute won a $750,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to expand the Faculty of Color Working Group across the 13 member institutions of the New England Humanities Consortium, significantly increasing opportunities for mentorship, professional development, and research for faculty members of color.
  • This summer we created the Presidential M1 Mentoring program, in collaboration with Prof. Cato Laurencin, providing support and relief time for a cadre of senior faculty to devote to mentoring underrepresented junior faculty.
  • The Neag School of Education’s Faculty Development Series this year will be structured around the themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion, with six online sessions on topics ranging from Culturally Sustaining Practices for College Teaching to Re-Imagining Schools for Equity.

These new initiatives complement existing programs of particular note in our departments, schools and cultural centers and foreshadow commitments to actions to come in the year ahead.  Ongoing programs include:

  • The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning’s workshop series centered on equity and inclusive teaching, with topics ranging from STEM courses to distance learning to facilitating challenging conversations in the classroom.
  • The Institute for Student Success and the Honors and Enrichment Programs have led with a number of innovative programs designed to support underrepresented students, from the Rowe Scholars Program to the BOLD Women’s Leadership Network to the SHARE Grant program.
  • The ScHOLA²RS House Learning Community in Werth Tower just graduated its first cadre of African American male students with a graduation rate of 84%, one of the highest 6-year graduation rates among public universities in the country.

We have much work to do to achieve the environment and culture we seek, one in which those traditionally not fully represented at the University are included in sufficient numbers to prevent the isolation of mind and spirit, and one in which every individual is appreciated and recognized for their unique contribution to the life and mission of the University. We have begun a focused strategic planning process to move us forward in this regard. The first round of that process last spring resulted in shared goals by the schools and units that we as leaders are committed to support. These goals are intentionally focused so as to move the needle in key areas and create the momentum that will allow progress in other areas. They are also cognizant of the foundations and best practices in many of our departments and cultural centers upon which we can build.

The high level goals are:

  • Adding significantly to the diversity of our faculty and staff.
  • Supporting an ecosystem to confront difficult truths and promote important conversations around race and identity.
  • Adding training that focuses on racial literacy and responsive approaches for managers and leaders.

Further work in developing these plans will take place over the coming year under the leadership of incoming Chief Diversity Officer Frank Tuitt.

Systemic oppression has been a feature of our society since the first Europeans arrived on this continent, and this colonial legacy won’t disappear overnight. We are committing ourselves to the hard work of listening, understanding, and working to make the changes needed to build the kind of society where the promises of equity and justice so foundational to our nation are finally shared by all.

This will be a process with many challenges, obstacles, and even setbacks – but as we said at the start of this letter, it is also an unprecedented opportunity. We can bend the arc of history toward justice if we work together.

Go Huskies,

Thomas Katsouleas, President

Carl Lejuez, Provost

Frank Tuitt, Chief Diversity Officer Designate