Presidential Message: June 11, 2020

By Laura A. Baldwin | June 12, 2020

Dear Community,

I write to you today not only as your President, but also as a community member. I feel a deep sense of failure as a leader, because so many of you are recounting stories of pain and agony felt for many, many years. As one of our colleagues asked me recently, “What’s in our DNA that reinforces systems of oppression?” As President and a member of this community, I must do everything in my power to lay the groundwork for systemic change in all realms of the institution, and the work will happen immediately—not a ten-year plan, not a five-year plan; it will happen now with your support and guidance. I cannot let you down. 

I joined the Arcadia community because I saw the potential for us to push for radical and systemic change. We have worked tirelessly to articulate our vision and values and build our Arcadia Adaptive Strategy 2025, and we have worked to shift our culture positively by building a community of practice and cultural humility. Still, as a community of practice, we are, candidly, a work in progress. 

Just listening is not enough. I agree. I have heard the call to hire more Black faculty members across departments; to hire more Black staff across the University; to conduct timely investigations of allegations of abuse, assault, discrimination, or other improprieties; to review the sexual harassment and discrimination process for reporting and following-up; to provide training to the campus community on sexual violence prevention; to continue the work to reverse systemic racism; to continue to diversify our Board of Trustees. Ultimately, none of this will matter if we do not engage in honest self-reflection and self-critique. The change we need is systemic, and it will remain elusive if we do not confront our own racism. We must lean into our frailties and take responsibility for our actions.

To that end, I want to share with you the commitments that the University has been working toward during the past year and will imminently make to address the major issues you have articulated recently and for many, many years. 

Reimagining the University in Six Domains
Beginning with the Adaptive Strategy ARCADIA2025: Strategic Initiatives, we will work to transform Arcadia’s educational landscape. The below Adaptive Strategy initiatives, which are being prioritized by the University, are being examined through a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) lens. Moreover, through ongoing and sustained dialogue with stakeholders, our adaptive strategy will continue to develop to meet the needs of our community and create systemic change at Arcadia. 

Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity: I have asked Provost Rutenbeck to work with Faculty Senate and other stakeholders to provide leadership on establishing an academic and co-curricular center focused on the following initiatives, among others:

  • Explore how diversity, with a specific focus on race and ethnicity, can be further advanced and infused in the curriculum.
  • Develop a means to study the historical, political, social, and cultural realities of America’s diverse ethnic populations. We hope these offerings will prepare students in a variety of ways for life and work, but specifically to serve as change agents as called for in our vision.
  • Develop an “open course” in the fall semester, focused specifically on race in America.
  • Diversify recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, students, and trustees, including efforts to explore fellowship lines in departments lacking diversity.
  • Support the Social Impact and Innovation Office and provide a new charge for the Open Expression Committee in fostering ways of knowing and understanding related to race and ethnicity. 
  • Work with key stakeholders to examine the socio-political and economic contexts of sexual, racial, and other forms of violence to help promote a public health agenda for the University.

Training, Learning, and Development

  • Launch and expand a community of practice and action that explores individual identity, white privilege, and systemic racism (faculty and staff join here).
  • Develop and launch an Inclusive Pedagogy Framework. The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring (CTLM) will lead the design process and create opportunities for engagement in teaching and learning topics and strategies focused on inclusive pedagogy.
  • We are hiring a Coordinator of Student-Athlete Success and Leadership by fall 2021 through a recently received NCAA Division III Ethnic Minorities and Women’s Internship Grant, coordinating efforts within the Athletics division around justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion while also focusing on the development of leadership skills in our broad and diverse populations of student-athletes. 

Campus, Climate, and Culture 

  • Conduct a search next academic year for a position in the Counseling Center to support Black students and students of color.
  • The Student Experience Task Force is focusing on ways to improve the experience of students of color as well as ways to enhance the levels of support, many of which are connected to other initiatives described in this letter. 
  • Create a pilot living and learning community in spring 2021 dedicated to issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Develop a stronger system of shared governance by the end of the academic year that fully includes alumni and student voices. 
  • The Office of Institutional Effectiveness and the Office of Institutional Diversity have partnered to examine data from our recent climate studies. The data from this project and others will inform additional action steps to help us improve campus climate and culture for all stakeholders; a top priority in this work will focus on the Black experience at Arcadia.

Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI)

  • Revise the Nondiscrimination and Non-Harassment Policy. Ensure that there is one unified and strong policy serving all campus constituencies. 
  • Change the structure to centralize reporting of discrimination, harassment, and bias incidents. 
  • Ensure reports are addressed immediately, build meaningful sanctions to address incidents, and communicate rights and outcomes with those impacted. 
  • The JEDI Commission’s year-end final report will include recommendations for a restructuring of the Commission, one that is more expansive in terms of membership; an expanded charge that includes addressing the contemporaneous needs of our community; and ideas on how to foster a community of practice and cultural humility. In addition, the Commission’s current work will inform the work that JEDI Commission 2.0 will undertake.
  • The Office of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Education, supported by a grant from the Department of Justice, will start a series of new prevention efforts over the course of the next academic year.

Local, National, and Global Impact

The Office of Social Impact and Innovation (SI2) was launched in 2019 to support change agents who seek positive transformation locally and around the world. SI2 will work closely with key stakeholders, including student leaders and the inaugural cohort of Civic Scholars, to advance our work in the following areas:

  • Combating white supremacy and police brutality;
  • Combating local, national, and global violence perpetrated against the Black community;
  • Supporting advocacy work to end systemic racism and violence, including, but not limited to, organizing, protest/dissent, electoral engagement, and legislative and policy changes.

Policies and Procedures

  • The Civility Flag, long seen as an inadequate and troubling response to reports of discrimination or improper behavior, has not been used in two years and has been phased out. A new system for reporting bias-related incidents will be piloted and launched for the next academic year.
  • Arcadia will join more than 1,100 universities and colleges nationwide with a standardized-test optional admissions policy beginning with current high school juniors applying for the Fall 2021 semester.

As I stated on June 1, “Time is not on our side. Every moment we wait means another life may be lost. The pressing questions for Arcadia are: How will we mobilize around these issues even more profoundly than we already are on a local, national, and global scale? How will we live up to our mission and vision as an institution that strives to be socially just? What does it mean to reimagine our University and inspire radical change?”

Many of you have expressed skepticism about our future because of higher education’s lackluster commitment to issues of justice. I hope the activism that flows through the veins of so many of our community members will lead to a renewed sense of hope and action. I know it has for me. More than twenty-five years ago, when I was an undergraduate student, I fought for the same issues many of you are advocating for today. I continue to share your frustration and fight for these issues, though now I am in a position to do even more. With your support, I plan to show up for our community to the best of my ability.

Students, alumni, faculty, staff—I am with you. There is a considerable amount of work to be done, and we remain firmly committed to creating lasting change for our community. It is my expectation that our leadership, with the support of the community, will have made significant progress by the end of the fall semester. I promise to provide frequent updates on all of these initiatives, including more definitive timelines, with a community-wide UKnighted “check us” meeting in October. 

In time, we will become a reflection of the world that we want to live in. 

Ajay Nair, Ph.D