Dear W&M Community,
What does it mean for us to live fully into our values as a university? In this learning community where deep human connection lies at the heart of who we are, what does it mean for William & Mary staff, faculty, students, alumni, and supporters to be empowered to “make a meaningful difference in our communities, the state, the nation, and the world,” as our values statement asserts?
The meaningful difference we are called to now is direct, anti-racist work with broad community support. Together, leaders from across the university must move from acknowledging and decrying injustice and racism to steady action and accountability. Because of our institutional history of slavery, William & Mary has a special obligation among universities in this country. So many in our community have worked with determination for change. Our Board of Visitors and administration deeply believe in this work. Yet the reality is that William & Mary is still behind. The experiences shared by staff and faculty colleagues this week, and student and alumni testimonies, are unequivocal.
I have heard many direct comments from Black students and others: “Tell us how W&M is going to protect our Black community.” “How are you going to ensure the climate supports Black students fully to be students?” Student Assembly leadership is bringing thoughtful agendas for action. Since my arrival at W&M, Black faculty and staff have shared the barriers they feel to fully engaging in their work and roles. I am open to hearing more. I take your insights and questions seriously and will reply.
While listening to students and colleagues throughout the last week, I met with senior leaders and with the leadership of our elected faculty and staff assemblies to gather their insights about concrete changes at W&M that would systematically eliminate racial bias in university structures and behaviors. We asked ourselves, “what can we do today?” Our answer: accelerate. Define results.
The summary below my signature includes practical steps that directly answer student questions about fair and impartial policing. We are accelerating actions related to faculty hiring and classroom climate outlined by the W&M Task Force on Race and Race Relations and the Lemon Project's report on its decade of work. These are affirmed again by the Student Assembly this summer. We are responding to dominant themes of our regular climate surveys from faculty, staff, and students about anti-discrimination training for managers, open communication, and wellness. We have elevated actions that are evidence-based and can yield results in the near term, under pandemic.
These near-term steps focus directly on systems that shape outcomes in hiring, learning, workplace communications, leadership for equity, and more. The year’s work supports some of W&M’s most important longer-term commitments: to scholarship on the history of race and racism at the university, to scrutiny of workplace climate and equity concerns, and more.
What will ultimately make this moment different from prior moments of recognition is broad commitment. Last week’s leadership conversations outlined a feasible and meaningful year of work at William & Mary that gives me hope. The work has strong and collaborative leadership conviction behind it. It is anchored in robust research on effective institutional change, and in our own data. I am open for continued direct and honest conversation about what we can achieve together, now.
As president, I aim to see through steady, ongoing, durable change. When I say that Black lives matter, I understand myself to be making a speech act: a promise of what should be that has not yet been achieved. It is necessary that we assert that Black lives matter because in our country, for so long, Black people have experienced disproportionate violence from the forces of law and justice that should be dedicated to securing their liberties and lives.
Moving to action is absolutely necessary and so too is continued space for grief and for honoring the African Americans whose lives were stolen brutally this spring as a result of racism and injustice. If campus were in session, our community would have gathered by now in the Wren Courtyard to comfort one another in grief, to unite in remembrance. Though we cannot be together in person, I invite you to a virtual Candlelight Vigil – W&M students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and friends will gather virtually on Tuesday, June 9, at 8:30 p.m. ET in remembrance of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others.
With respect and commitment,
Katherine A. Rowe
Fair and impartial policing
- Last week, Chief Cheesebro met with student leaders of more than a dozen campus cultural organizations to discuss the William & Mary Police’s advocacy and support for marginalized groups and their commitment to bias-free policing. Consistent with that meeting, the Chief is refining a plan of action for the year that we will be ready to report and implement in August.
- Starting this fall, Chief Cheesebro will also hold monthly, open Q&A sessions with our community to answer questions, hear concerns, and provide updates about WMPD actions. She will share relevant department data. And she will invite regional law enforcement agencies to participate.
- Yesterday, Chief Cheesebro joined with university leaders and community leaders in our localities, to reaffirm the university’s commitment to the Historic Triangle Covenant: a covenant in 2017 of local law enforcement – Williamsburg, York County, James City County, and W&M – and the African American community, to work in collaboration and transparency to resolve injustice and racial disparities as it relates to policing in African American communities.
Values in action
- William & Mary fully affirms students’ and employees’ rights as individuals peacefully to protest and freely to express themselves. By July, we will review and will publish updated institutional policies that enable the exercise of individual rights with confidence. We will consider how the rights to protest and engage fully in civil discourse can sit side by side with the imperative of social distancing under pandemic.
- Provost Agouris will launch a three-year pilot in faculty hiring, in partnership with the Faculty Assembly. By implementing a suite of best strategies gathered from across the university, we will seek to minimize the effects of implicit bias in hiring and expand our excellence and expertise in inclusive teaching. In ways appropriate to the different disciplines and schools, we will include students in faculty recruiting to gain their insights on the value of inclusive teaching – as student leaders have sought. The Provost and Faculty Assembly leadership, together with the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and search chairs, will convene annually at the end of each year for formative evaluation – to understand what worked and what did not – then adjust and refine this set of best practices going forward.
- We will focus W&M’s new Values in Action initiative on the value of belonging this coming year. These monthly dialogues, led by our CHRO and administrators, will engage managers and supervisors, chairs, and directors of programs, to identify additional ways to address issues of racism and equity, isolation, and other potential barriers to the spirit of an inclusive community.
- W&M’s CHRO and deans will work together to infuse skills for leading and instilling equity into the onboarding of new chairs, directors of programs, and managers.
- W&M has been a national leader for nearly a decade in student wellness. What was true before the pandemic is doubly true now: access to wellness is also about equity and needs to be institution-wide. In this effort, W&M can draw both on our own expertise and on best practices in other industries. The president will charge a small and swift planning team, led by Kelly Crace, our AVP for Health & Wellness, with our CHRO and Dr. Warren Buck, in his role as Special Advisor to the president. I’ve asked them to deliver in the spring a three-year roadmap for integrating wellbeing practices into W&M’s employee work-life and culture.
Inclusive curriculum and classrooms
A university’s most powerful way to create cultural sophistication about discrimination and racism is via teaching, learning, and sharing new knowledge.
- Provost Agouris, the five deans, and faculty leadership will incorporate research on racial dynamics and disparities into our curricula, to include specific learning objectives and outcomes that address race, equity, and justice. These will complement the expansion of the COLL 350 diversity, equity, and justice requirement across all five schools. The result we are aiming for is to systematically shift the workload from underrepresented students, faculty, and staff for inclusive teaching and learning.
- During a year in which we anticipate that scholars from other institutions can only join W&M virtually, we will take full advantage of new opportunities for the classroom to catalyze widespread discussion. The Provost and deans will reallocate funds for visitors, enabling faculty to invite into their courses (virtually) alumni and experts leading anti-racist work in their disciplines.
Equity in communication for staff
The digital divide was vividly exposed this spring: multiple barriers to communication and community in a world that moved online fast. Communication challenges are a top concern in university life identified by students, faculty, and staff. Being physically apart made them much worse.
- This summer, we aim to level the field of access to university communications across our employee classification system. The Chief Operating Officer (COO) and CHRO will ensure that all employees are supported within their workday to stay connected as professionals and members of the W&M community.
- This week, Staff Assembly is launching “Virtual Water-Coolers” to create much-needed space for informal dialogue about how W&M news and current events intersect with staff experiences, in order to have a better understanding of racial bias and discrimination on campus. Regular exchanges of these kinds are especially important when we are physically apart and essential for full participation.
Raising the bar for leadership
Those who educate leaders must equip themselves at the highest level, to lead with sophistication on behalf of all in the community. In the pre-season of every academic year, we will convene the president’s Cabinet, with our staff and faculty assembly leaders, to learn about – and determine ways steadily to rid the university of – unintentional vestiges of institutional bias or racism. The result will be to grow our inclusion toolkit as leaders. We will begin with implicit bias training in late summer. We will hold ourselves accountable to report on our progress annually.