November 23, 2015

An Update on the Clock Tower Accords

A Message from the Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Community Engagement

Dear SLU Community,

I write today to share with you an update on the progress we continue to make in implementing the Clock Tower Accords - a process I have been charged with shepherding as SLU's first special assistant to the president for diversity and community engagement.

As you may recall, one of the accords was to create a leadership position within the University that would facilitate the development, implementation and assessment of strategies to further diversity and inclusion on our campus and to increase our engagement with the external community. My appointment on July 1 fulfilled that accord.

Since my appointment, I have been meeting with campus, civic, grassroots, religious, corporate and government leaders. During this process, I met with each member of the Access and Success Committee - the group previously charged with overseeing implementation of the accords. I have joined and now chair that committee. I have also joined the President's Diversity Council, on which I serve as an interim co-chair along with Michelle Lewis, Director of our Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity.

These meetings and committees are important because one of my overriding priorities is to develop strong partnerships that will advance diversity, inclusion, equity and community engagement. I am pleased to report that - in every meeting and every interaction - I have found strong support not only for the specific accords, but also for doing the work necessary to address the fundamental issues behind each accord.

Another accord was achieved in the spring of 2015 when the University and the Director of African American Studies, Dr. Stefan Bradley, agreed upon a significant increase in the program's annual operating budget. This increase allows the program to more fully support the research and teaching agenda of its faculty, which includes leading scholars and teachers in the field. Additionally, this increase will position the program to broaden its programming for students and the wider University community.

To implement the remaining accords, we have formed four working groups that will engage in an open and broadly participatory process involving the full spectrum of our stakeholders, including trustees, administration, faculty, staff, students, community and civic organizations, and other partners.

Below is a summary of each group and its charge.

  • The Race, Poverty and Inequality work group will serve as the planning body for a national conference on race to be held August 4-6, 2016. We have received a $20,000 grant from the Jesuits Central and Southern Province to plan and sponsor this conference. This work group will also oversee development of a diversity speaker series, as well as define and establish a race, poverty and inequality steering committee.
  • The Recruitment, Admission and Retention work group is charged with addressing financial aid resources for African-American students and programs that will serve the region's most disadvantaged school districts to help increase the number of college-bound students from those areas. This group will work closely with the Division of Enrollment and Retention Management, as well as their counterparts from regional institutions and with area K-12 educators. These efforts have already begun and will be long-term and ongoing.
  • The Community and Economic Development work group will coordinate the design and development of a community center to serve our neighbors and an academic center for community and economic development. This community center and the widely multidisciplinary academic center will become a hub for scholarship, research and community partnerships that aim to improve the lives of our neighbors who face pressing issues of race, poverty and inequality. Because both centers will have facility and staffing needs, the timeline for these projects will stretch over the next three-to-five years.
  • The Public Art and Aesthetics work group will oversee the processes for creating mutually agreed upon commissioned artwork. Later this year, this working group will develop an open, juried process for selecting the work. The group will also develop guidelines and policy for the placement of works of public art on our campus in the future. 

I want to offer a special thanks to all those members of the Access and Success Committee who started and have maintained this work since last October. In moving forward with these efforts, we not only want to fulfill the letter of the accords, but also to address the core issues driving each one of them. With this in mind, the President's Diversity Council will conduct a university-wide assessment of diversity. We expect this to be a 12-18 month project.

Dr. Pestello and I are also working to meet monthly with representatives from a number of student organizations, including the Student Government Association (SGA), the Black Student Alliance (BSA), the Hispanic-American Leadership Organization (HALO) and the Asian American Association (AAA), among others.

Early next semester, we will launch the previously announced Community Engagement Inventory. This centralized database will serve as an online clearinghouse to track the activities we are undertaking - as a University - in the region, and will map the relationships between our SLU community and the greater St. Louis community.

As part of our goal to further engage with our neighbors, we have opened our doors to civic groups, including the Ferguson Commission, and have provided space for a Public Accountability Meeting. In addition, we have hosted several related events during the past month alone, including:

  • "Ending Poverty: America's Silent Spaces" an open forum and panel discussion moderated by noted journalist Tavis Smiley
  • "Jesuits and Race," a day-long conference co-sponsored by the Jesuit Archives: Central United States
  • "Organized Non-Violent Resistance: The Truth-Telling Project in Ferguson," a panel discussion featuring local and national speakers 

As I close, it is important for you to know that I have received strong support from the president, the provost, the vice presidents, the deans and members of our Board of Trustees. The leadership of Saint Louis University clearly wants to see SLU become a national model for diversity and community engagement. This is further evidenced by the priorities in our new Strategic Plan that align with the underlying themes of the accords.

The recent events that have occurred in Columbia, Missouri, and elsewhere around the country have brought forth new conversations about race and equality on our nation's college campuses. Here at SLU, we have been in engaged in these conversations for more than a year.

During my 13 years at Saint Louis University, I have never seen such a serious commitment to and investment in diversity, inclusion and equity. I appreciate and am inspired daily by my faculty and administration colleagues, our students, our staff, our alumni, and our community partners who work and advocate continually for diversity and inclusion - who undertake the work as a calling that arises out of our mission. If you are aware of or involved in diversity, inclusion or community engagement work of which I should be aware, please contact me.

In this spirit, we are taking action and progress is being made. I understand that the pace of real progress is never fast enough. Indeed, at the very moment that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called us to dream of the future, he called us to feel "the fierce urgency of now." Because the urgent, arduous work before us is ours, all of ours, I invite all of you to join us in committing to the work for which the times call.


Jonathan C. Smith, Ph.D.
Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Community Engagement

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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