June 14, 2020
Dear members of the Whitman community,
On May 30, I sent a note to all of you condemning the racist murder of George Floyd. Since then, many of you have responded to let me know that message did not go far enough in terms of specific commitments on the part of the college to move us toward being an anti-racist, inclusive community. I am listening, and I recognize that members of our community have experienced deep pain. As Whitman’s president, I share responsibility for that and reaffirm my pledge to continue the work of enhancing equity and inclusion in our community.
I announced a new task force on inclusion in my earlier message and have now appointed its members. The task force is being chaired by Thomas Witherspoon, vice president for diversity and inclusion, and is charged with working to make Whitman a more inclusive and equitable community, where every member can share a sense of belonging. It will examine systems and structures within the college through an equity and inclusion lens.
The task force is composed of three small teams, with one focused on faculty concerns, one focused on staff, and the third focused on students. The small teams will spend time listening to and examining the specific concerns of marginalized communities within their community group. Additionally, the small team will offer recommendations for building a more inclusive campus environment for these communities. Each small team includes one student, one faculty member, one staff member, and a member of the president’s cabinet. The names of the members of the task force will be shared soon and will be posted on a new webpage dedicated to this work.
The teams will spend time developing an understanding of the current concerns within our college community for their specific population. They will review past criticisms with fresh eyes and then create a platform for community members to voice additional concerns and offer potential solutions in writing, as well as hosting community listening sessions. They will use all of that information to develop an action plan that they will share with the president’s cabinet by July 30, so that we can launch next steps before the beginning of the fall semester. I have asked that the proposed actions be prioritized based on their potential for significant and immediate impact. I recognize that this task force will be meaningless if it does not lead to real change, and I know you will hold me responsible for that. I would expect nothing less. We can’t know at this time exactly where this work will take us, but I am committed to eradicating racism and promoting inclusion in our community.
A number of you have asked me to donate the college’s money to anti-racist organizations. I understand that request, but at a time of unprecedented budgetary crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I cannot dedicate college resources to external groups. I can, however, make my own contribution and use my voice to urge others to do the same. I am making a personal gift to UNCF to help more African American students find a path to and through college. I have chosen UNCF because its mission is so central to our mission. I encourage all of you who are able to offer your support to an anti-racist organization.
Many of you have called out the entire administration for not doing more to make Whitman an inclusive community. I’ve asked the cabinet to make this a top priority and will hold them accountable for doing so. I pledge to be transparent about our work in this area and share regular updates on our efforts going forward. We also recognize the entire community must be willing to embrace this goal and engage in the work to achieve it. You will hear from Thomas Witherspoon about ways to engage with the task force on inclusion. Once the cabinet has reviewed the task force’s work in early August, we will provide an update on action items and next steps. I look forward to continuing this critically important work with all of you.