Dear Wake Forest University Community,
Wake Forest University is wrestling with its own complex history, and as an educational institution is committed to: seeking and understanding the truth; acknowledging the full complexity of our history; and taking action to address past and present inequities in our community.
We have heard the concerns of members of our community regarding race, inequity and the lived experiences of some of our students, staff and faculty. While there is no easy solution or quick fix to address those concerns, there must be constant and intentional movement toward improving the Wake Forest experience for all – especially those who contend with bias and prejudice all too frequently. Toward that end, I am establishing the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community, one part of a larger institutional effort to illuminate our history, address our present and reaffirm our commitments for the future. Even as the Commission is assembling, other campus-wide committees are delving into the topics of slavery, race and memory, as well as bias, conduct and free expression. Additional training and educational opportunities have also been designed and implemented across campus, including unconscious bias training for student leaders and enhanced programming for incoming students during Orientation Week.
The Commission will work within the framework of these three driving principles;
- Every member of our community has infinite dignity. It is the privilege and responsibility of the Wake Forest community to accept everyone on those terms.
- The power of education can heighten awareness, encourage empathy, bring healing and understanding, promote conversation and dialogue and free us from prejudice.
- Wake Forest needs to be authentic and honest about its past, present and future. Facing reality, however sobering, is essential if we are to build a genuinely pluralistic community.
As part of the greater institutional effort, the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community is charged with assessing the current realities of our community and the present condition of our institutional policies and practices to develop specific and actionable recommendations that will cultivate a more diverse, equitable and welcoming learning community.
This work includes, but is not limited to, taking account of where progress has been made, conducting a thorough review of policies and practices that may have contributed to inequity within our community; identifying other aspects of Wake Forest that do not support the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion; developing recommendations for credible opportunities to make Wake Forest a more welcoming community of learning for all students, staff and faculty; and suggesting implementation strategies and evaluation markers.
The Commission, and any pertinent and appointed committees, will meet monthly during the 2019-2020 academic year. A final written report will be presented to the President for his review and consideration.
I have asked Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion/Chief Diversity Officer José Villalba and Associate Dean for Faculty Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion Erica Still to serve as co-chairs of the Commission. I plan to announce the Commission members (faculty, staff, students, committee liaisons and ex-officio members) by the start of the Fall semester and expect that the Commission will hold its first meeting in early September.
Let me share with you two other significant efforts that are or soon will be underway along with other important information and resources.
The Committee on Slavery, Race and Memory, under the direction of Associate Provost Kami Chavis, is the recently re-named process that has been underway at Wake Forest since 2016 when our institution joined the Universities Studying Slavery Consortium. This project will guide the research, preservation and communication of an accurate depiction of the University’s relationship to slavery and its implications across Wake Forest’s history. The Steering Committee will develop a mission statement for the Project; coordinate the University’s work as a member of the USS Consortium; and develop and implement an academically-centered approach to examining the history of slavery and its implications at Wake Forest, both on the original campus and here in Winston-Salem. A newly-designed website is now live and will provide real-time updates on the work of this project along with resources and other materials.
The Committee on the Intersection of Bias, Expression and Conduct, co-chaired by Title IX Director Tanya Jachimiak and Dean of Residence Life and Housing Matt Clifford, has been established to examine how the university should respond when our commitment to an inclusive environment, free expression and open inquiry comes into conflict with the expectations we have for a community free of bias and conduct that may diminish our campus community. This committee is charged with defining how the minimum expectations we have for one another are defined in light of incidents of bias and expression and will be empowered to recommend changes, where needed, to the Code of Conduct and the bias incident response process.
Wake Forest belongs to all of us. We shape it every day with our actions and our commitment to one another. In a society where tolerance, empathy, compromise and forgiveness are undervalued, we will continue to nurture those virtues for our common good.
Real change will ultimately come when we understand and appreciate one another for who we are. In my experience, that happens when people, with genuine relationships, work alongside one another toward common goals. I remain committed to making Wake Forest a more hospitable place for all.
Thank you. I am grateful for all who are committed to this work.
Nathan O. Hatch