The Vanderbilt community continues to process the horrific news of the past few weeks, as our nation has once again grappled with tragic killings and racial injustice. We join our Black students, faculty, postdoctoral scholars, staff, alumni and community members in mourning the Black lives of all genders, brutally taken, and in asserting that racism has no place at Vanderbilt or in our society at large. Vanderbilt has a responsibility, indeed, an obligation, to continuously do the work to combat racism and racial injustice—both on our campus and throughout our Nashville community.
Universities such as ours exist because of an unshakable belief in human potential. We must do whatever it takes to create an environment in which all members of our community can thrive and contribute to their full potential. And while we have been working for a long time to make Vanderbilt a more diverse and inclusive community, we must ask ourselves: How can we do more?
We are committed to working with our university’s Black leaders, students, faculty, postdoctoral scholars, staff and alumni to leverage our unique strengths and resources as a research institution to take action. The answers are not quick, and they are not easy, but finding them, and mapping out our next steps, is urgent. We begin this work today.
Real transformation begins with thoughtful action, informed by dialogue, data and determination. In that spirit, and as a starting point, we pledge to make changes in several key areas.
EXPAND AND DEEPEN DIALOGUE WITH OUR BLACK COMMUNITY MEMBERS.
We will engage in a meaningful and honest examination of Vanderbilt’s governing policies and daily operations. Black voices and viewpoints must be well-represented, respected and acted upon as we move forward. To support these efforts, we will:
- Establish an ad hoc Vanderbilt Board of Trust committee to partner with university leadership in evaluating and recommending policies around equity, diversity and inclusion.
- Renew and expand the University Diversity Council to include alumni leader representatives from the Association of Vanderbilt Black Alumni and the ’Dores of Distinction Board.
- Empower the ’Dores of Distinction Board to serve as a direct advisory body to the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and to the chief diversity officer.
INCREASE INVESTMENT IN PROGRAMMING AND INFRASTRUCTURE SUPPORTING EQUITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION.
Genuine and lasting change at Vanderbilt requires a sustained commitment of resources. To enhance ongoing efforts, we will:
- Significantly raise the combined budgets for the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Provost’s Office for Inclusive Excellence, which supports the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, and all of our identity centers and initiatives. The Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion was launched in 2015, and the Office for Inclusive Excellence was launched in 2016.
- Provide additional resources for the Vanderbilt University Counseling Center to enhance student well-being, which will include psychological and counseling services for our students most in need and the launch of campus satellite locations, such as within the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center.
- Continue to expand mentorship and career-coaching opportunities for Black and first-generation students, as well as for other identity groups.
DEEPEN OUR COMMITMENT TO ENHANCE DIVERSITY.
Creating a more inclusive Vanderbilt starts by broadening the diversity of those on our campus and in our wider university community. While we have made strides in recent years, now is the time to do more. We will:
- Expand efforts to diversify the university’s faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars and student body. In addition to bolstering our traditional hiring efforts, we invest in new hiring strategies through enhanced provost- and chancellor-level support, career development, mentorship and bridge programming, as well as expanded support for Opportunity Vanderbilt, Experience Vanderbilt and academic-success initiatives.
- Examine our supplier and vendor relationships to identify opportunities to enhance the diversity of service providers to Vanderbilt. In addition, we will work to identify local goods and services that are provided by Black-owned businesses or are of unique importance to our Black communities.
ENHANCE SCHOLARSHIP AND EDUCATION.
As a world-renowned academic research institution, we need to draw on discovery, education and creative expression to begin finding solutions to the complex problems of racial injustice and violence. It is imperative that we:
- Augment our research, scholarship and curricular efforts around race and inclusion. We will support multiple research and teaching initiatives at the provost level, such as through enhanced Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPs) and Research Scholar Grants, Discovery Grants and Micro Grants, as well as through school/college-based programs such as the College of Arts and Science’s Grand Challenges.
- Bolster our bias and inclusivity training on several fronts, including making bias training mandatory for faculty hiring committees, expanding bias training for students, staff, postdoctoral scholars and faculty, particularly new hires, and increasing training for inclusive teaching through the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching.
CONFRONT RACISM IN VANDERBILT’S OWN PAST.
Part of building a more just future means confronting our own history. We must acknowledge past and present racism at Vanderbilt, whether through overt acts or routine daily encounters. To do so, we will:
- Explore and engage in meaningful conversations and learning opportunities about our university’s history, including curricular and immersion projects focused on the study of Vanderbilt’s founding through present-day events, orientations for new students, faculty, postdoctoral scholars and staff, and a continuing series of community panel discussions and symposia.
- Deepen our dialogue with Vanderbilt’s Black alumni community to understand and address aspects of Vanderbilt’s history.
- Support projects that explore Vanderbilt’s history on racial justice, such as Assistant Dean of Residential Colleges and Director of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center Rosevelt Noble’s Lost in the Ivy, which chronicles the history of Black students, faculty, postdoctoral scholars and staff at Vanderbilt.
PARTNER WITH THE CITY OF NASHVILLE TO ADDRESS RACIAL INEQUITIES.
We must take an active role in our local and intellectual communities to leverage the full power of Vanderbilt’s resources, leadership and expertise to bring about positive, long-term change. To do so, we will:
- Deepen our engagement with the city of Nashville and its communities to partner in addressing racial disparities in critical areas such as education, health care, public safety and urban planning.
- Partner with communities, nonprofits and civic organizations to foster opportunity and to co-create solutions to their most pressing problems.
- Provide financial support and programming for important local institutions such as the National Museum of African American Music.
We recognize that these are extremely painful times for our Black community members at Vanderbilt and beyond. It is our sincere belief and hope that we can truly begin to reshape our university, and our world, so that Black community members can have equal access to the human rights and dignities that have been denied to so many for so long. We understand that these efforts are only the beginning of our work to combat racism and racial injustice at Vanderbilt and beyond. But they must be taken and they must be taken now.
As with any major endeavor, we can only arrive at this better tomorrow as one community, One Vanderbilt. We urge everyone to join us in our efforts to bring about genuine, impactful and enduring change.
Susan R. Wente
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
André Churchwell, M.D.
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer