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Task force seeks community feedback on racial climate at W&M

  • Task force at work:
    Task force at work:  Members of the Task Force on Race and Race Relations engage in discussion during a meeting.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Task force at work:
    Task force at work:  Members of the Task Force on Race and Race Relations engage in discussion during a meeting.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Update: A second undergraduate forum will be held on Nov. 17 from 7 to 9 p.m. in Blow Hall, room 201. Also, the location for the staff forum has been changed to Tidewater A/B - Ed.

William & Mary’s Task Force on Race and Race Relations has been at work since the spring and is hoping to continue its progress with additional feedback from the campus community.

The task force will host a series of forums this month, including one for faculty on Nov. 9 at 4:30 p.m. in Blow Hall, room 201. An undergraduate student forum is scheduled for Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in the Sadler Center’s Tidewater A room, and a forum for graduate and professional students will be held Nov. 9 at 12:50 p.m. in the Law School, room 127. A staff forum will be held Nov. 23 at 11 a.m. in the Sadler Center's Tidewater A/B room.

The aim of the forums is to receive input from the campus community on the racial climate at William & Mary, said Chon Glover, chief diversity officer and chair of the task force.

“All community members have had an opportunity to submit their comments through the task force website, but this will be an opportunity to interact with members of the task force and share feedback or concerns,” Glover said. “We encourage as many people as possible to come out because their thoughts are very important to us and to the work of the task force, and we really want it to be an inclusive process where all members of the community feel like they’ve had input.”

Glover will give brief introductory remarks at each forum, and either the president or provost – or both – are expected to attend, as are members of the task force.

The task force was formed in March 2015 by W&M President Taylor Reveley following a series of race-related incidents throughout the nation and in the campus community, including social media responses to a Black Lives Matter die-in held in Swem Library, student parties that included racially insensitive themes and costumes, and a “call to action on racism at William & Mary” issued by students.

In his charge to the task force, Reveley asked its members to provide recommendations in four areas: campus climate, prevention and education, recruitment of diverse faculty and senior administration, and bias reporting and incident protocol. The task force’s recommendations are due to Reveley in March 2016.

“We need to engage difficult racial issues at William & Mary, just as we grapple with those raised by sexual assault and harassment,” said Reveley in a message to campus. “The necessary conversations and inquiries will not be simple or easy. But these are the very sorts of discussions a W&M education prepares us to undertake.”

Faculty, staff, alumni and a member of the Board of Visitors were selected to serve on the task force. Graduate and undergraduate students, who received an email sent to the student body in the spring to solicit volunteers, also serve with the group and on its four subcommittees, organized around the four areas outlined in the president’s charge.

The task force began its work in the spring by learning about current practices and programs at William & Mary related to various aspects of racial diversity, such as the incident reporting system and the educational programs offered by the Center for Student Diversity.

In April, the task force launched a website to both keep the community informed about its work and to also begin soliciting feedback through a web-based form. The site also includes a link to a page on the Dean of Students’ website where people may report an incident or concern.

During the summer, the subcommittees met to begin researching best practices at other institutions and generating ideas for what might be done at William & Mary. The full task force met again in August to discuss what its members had discovered.

The task force will use the feedback from November’s forums to look for thematic or specific areas of concern related to the campus climate, Glover said, and that information will help shape the recommendations the group will present to Reveley in March.

Once Reveley has reviewed the recommendations, an implementation team will be formed to create a strategic plan, which will include timelines, accountability levels and resources to put toward the recommended actions.

Glover hopes that the task force is just the beginning.

“I really want this to be the first of many steps toward creating a climate that faculty, staff and students feel is one of value and respect regardless of who they are or what identities they bring to the table,” said Glover. “I want it to open up honest communication about issues of race, and we need to produce some tangible, noticeable commitments to the four areas that we’re charged to review.”

True change will require the effort of everyone within the W&M community, Glover added.

“No amount of recommendations is going to do that if there’s not a strong commitment and collective effort from all of us,” she said. “Without the commitment to true inclusion, it’s just words on paper."