Dear members of the Vanderbilt community,
One year ago tomorrow, we made a pledge to the Vanderbilt community to accelerate our work to make Vanderbilt a more diverse and inclusive community in which every member can thrive. This pledge speaks directly to our core values as a university, where we recognize and help to bring out the best in human potential.
Throughout the challenges of a global pandemic and a year marked by deep polarization and urgent calls for racial justice across the country, we were proud to see Vanderbilt’s unique culture of collaboration creating a common purpose and shared sense of belonging. Of course, our campus is not immune to the problems of our society, and we know that real transformation will not be a simple or singular path. Yet, as we reflect on the past year, we are heartened by the many significant steps we have taken to move our university forward.
We began at the institutional level by more than doubling our budget for the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, establishing an ad hoc Board of Trust committee chaired by Adolpho A. Birch III to review Vanderbilt’s approach to equity, diversity and inclusion, and investing in our diverse pool of talent and leadership at all levels. Our progress in recruitment over the past several years is outlined in the 2019–20 Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Report.
We also look forward to welcoming Belinda ‘Otukolo Saltiban to Vanderbilt as the new associate vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion. Her deep experience and scholarship will help the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to create and advance impactful programs and processes throughout the entire fabric of our university.
Building an inclusive Vanderbilt also means ensuring that everyone feels able to share personal perspectives within a supportive environment. In response to the tragic national uptick in hate crimes and violence this year, we have remained in close contact with concerned members of our community, and we have responded to any instance of resulting tension on our campus. We proactively work with university organizations supporting identity groups to protect their members’ well-being and have significantly augmented resources for mental health support at the Vanderbilt University Counseling Center to assist our students during difficult times. We also rebuilt our framework for programs on implicit bias, offering 70 sessions to help student, faculty and staff groups recognize, discuss and change our attitudes toward members of our community who come from different backgrounds. These programs also allow us to engage and develop closer relationships with individuals from all backgrounds and help us to move toward a more inclusive Vanderbilt community. Many of you have participated in conversations on challenging topics that brought to light important viewpoints and diverse experiences.
Fundamentally, we are leveraging our role as a world-class research university to advance the scholarship and constructive dialogue that is urgently needed to build a more inclusive society. We founded the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy to elevate evidence-based reasoning and discourse in the national conversation. We have made efforts to include a diversity of voices, welcoming Gen. Colin L. Powell, former Vice President Al Gore, 66th Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others to speak to our community and have engaged global audiences in numerous interdisciplinary panels that examined relevant history and current events, such as “Racial Justice, Freedom and Activism in Nashville and Beyond: Then and Now.” As a new member of the Universities Studying Slavery Consortium, we joined 70 peer institutions responding to historical and contemporary issues of race and inequality in higher education. This initiative expands upon ongoing scholarship dedicated to a rigorous study of our own history as a university, such as Dr. Rosevelt Noble’s project with the Data Science Institute, Lost in the Ivy.
In addition, we work to build transformative partnerships within our hometown of Nashville—with goals ranging from addressing inequities in education and public health, to supporting minority-owned businesses and community causes, to partnering with vital cultural centers such as the National Museum of African American Music. These projects invigorate our university community and deepen our efforts to bring about genuine and enduring change.
Looking ahead, we will continue to create opportunities and programs that promote civil and constructive discussions within our university community. This commitment to respectful, reasoned discourse requires an environment where inclusion is a priority and where diverse perspectives and divergent opinions can be shared openly. Sometimes the conversations may be difficult and may challenge existing views, but a university is meant to be a forum for such dialogue—and that entails being willing to listen and learn from each other and to change one’s mind when new ideas and facts warrant it.
Among the efforts that will help foster these important conversations is our soon-to-be-opened Multicultural Community Space, which will provide a vibrant home for collaboration and celebration of many cultures and identities. We also are looking forward to further expanding our flagship This Moment in America discussion series.
The highlights we have shared here are by no means an exhaustive list of our efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive Vanderbilt. Our work began, and continues, with asking how we can do more—and this means there is more work ahead. Though we have made progress, we also have experienced challenges on our campus and in our communities that have tested all of us. Yet in the spirit of growth and learning, we have used these opportunities—and will continue to do so—to make our community even stronger. As with any major endeavor, we can only arrive at a better tomorrow as One Vanderbilt.
André L. Churchwell
Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer