Message Updating the SLU Community on the Clock Tower Accords

09/12/2017

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff and Clinicians:
 
Without question, the fall of 2014 shook the St. Louis region. After the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Saint Louis University students, staff, faculty and alumni were among the many citizens spurred to use their skills as activists, clergy, legal observers, and educators in response. The death of Vonderrit Myers, Jr., son of a SLU employee, in the Shaw neighborhood was the catalytic event that brought these issues home to our campus.
 

Next month, we will remember and honor the six days of campus protests and teach-ins, known as OccupySLU, that roused this University in October 2014. Perhaps more than any at other event or moment in our 200-year history, from October 12-18, 2014, voices from within and without our community clearly called us to live our mission of social justice right here in the neighborhoods adjacent to our campuses, especially here in St. Louis City where, by nearly every metric of health and well-being, African Americans fare far worse than their white neighbors. We heard the call that enjoined us to help educate, empower and uplift families restrained by generations of racism and poverty.

The events of OccupySLU sparked conversations on race, poverty and inequality in classrooms and residence halls. They inspired increased participation by students in the hundreds of social justice, education and public health programs we run throughout the St. Louis region. And they required a declaration of our own accountability to act with purpose and passion, harnessing our intellectual, economic and spiritual energies to help heal our region’s — and America’s — deep, social wounds.
 
Much of the University’s declaration was embodied in the 13 Clock Tower Accords The University continues to make progress in our commitments under the Accords. For example, Go Further funds are providing dollar-for-dollar matches to Pioneers of Inclusion Scholarship awardees, as part of Accords 2 and 3, which address improvements to financial aid for African-American students. We also have expanded eligibility for the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship to include second-, third- and fourth-year students. And the Saint Peter Claver Service Scholarship is funding grants to students from urban communities.
 
As recently as last month, benefactors funded a four-year, full-tuition, room and board scholarship for graduates of the Access Academies initiative in local private high schools to attend SLU. This is an extraordinary gift because it sustains work begun with individual students of color during middle school and continued through high school. We hope more donors can expand the reach of this new Access Scholarship.
 
Accords 4 and 5 address college preparation and bridge programs for elementary and high school students in disadvantaged neighborhoods. In the 2015-2016 school year, our admissions office hosted more than 110 college workshops covering everything from the college admissions process to study skills and dorm life. Our Pre-College and Access Program offers workshops to high school students in some of our region’s most underserved high schools. Will Perkins and Ryan Wilson in the Pre-College Access and Programs office are working to create summer and after-school bridge programs that engage and excite grammar and high school students not only in the Shaw neighborhood and Normandy school district. Currently, staff in our Pre-College Access and Programs and in Admissions are working to create a test-prep/tutoring program for students in underserved North County school districts.
 
Our Student Educational Services Talent Search Program serves students in grades 6-12 in the SLPS. Talent Search educates these students on college admissions requirements, scholarships and financial aid programs. And through the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement we are increasing our activity in grant writing. Last year we built partnerships with Harris-Stowe State University, Washington University in Saint Louis, BioSTL and Green House Ventures to pursue funding for a STEM enrichment and bridge program in Shaw. Those partnerships are ongoing and supported by our Office of Research.
 
Next spring, we will convene a national conference on racial equity, per Accord 10. This follows a Race, Faith and Justice conference held in August 2016 and a Jesuits and Race symposium in November 2015. The Spring 2018 conference will be co-sponsored by the Theology Department and the Bicentennial Committee. This conference, focused on Dr. Martin Luther King and Social Justice will bring in such nationally recognized scholars as M. Shawn Copeland, Jeffrey McCune, James Cone and Dwight Hopkins along with local clergy and community leaders.
 
In response to Accord 7, we are announcing an artist in residency program that will bring underrepresented artists to campus to work as artists and to engage our community in discussions of public art and social justice. Additionally, in October we will be hosting the “Ferguson Voices: Disrupting the Frame” exhibit in the Center for Global Citizenship. The “Ferguson Voices” exhibit, currently on display at the Saint Louis Public Library Schlafly Branch, comes to us from The Moral Courage Project at the University of Dayton
 
Accords 6 and 8 require a much greater portion of our institutional thought and resources. The sixth accord commits us to establishing a community center from which we can operate some of our public health, social justice or educational initiatives right in the neighborhood. The eighth accord commits us to establishing an academic center for community and economic development. These two remain the most far-reaching and ambitious accords. Completing them will be a big undertaking, especially while the University works to strengthen its own financial health and to transform the university into what it needs to be for the 21st century and beyond. We will work collaboratively with faith and neighborhood leaders to be sure that our efforts are smart and thoughtful. Ultimately, we want to be sure that effort is effective for neighborhood families and their children, and that it becomes a catalyst for economic investment by others there.
 
We will continue to post updates on our progress to our website.
 
Finally, while some have construed the Accords to be check boxes for which one can announce, “done,” I believe we have to think about the spirit and context in which the accords came to be. A look at their spirit indicates that the accords call us to work and live in a way that moves us in the direction of what Martin Luther King called “beloved community.” Or as our mission frames it, “the greater glory of God and … the service of humanity.”
 
Sadly, I am not convinced that the fight for racial and economic equity will be won in my lifetime. I am convinced however, that it will be won. It will be won if we remember and act upon the fact that the difficult and diligent efforts to fight for racial and economic equity do not fall on any one person. They fall on all of us.
 
Sincerely,
Jonathan C. Smith, Ph.D.
Vice President 
Diversity & Community Engagement