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Update from the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement

April 7, 2021 

Dear SLU Community, 

I write today to update on the work that our committee was charged with by President Pestello in the fall of 2020. As you may recall, President Pestello charged me with the task of assembling a committee to collect, assess, evaluate and make recommendations in response to various sets of racial equity demands and concerns we had received from our community. Many people in our community, myself included, responded to the 2020 killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery with outrage, grief, and fatigue. More importantly, many responded with renewed vigorous and appropriately impatient calls to end racism in all its forms.  

We heard such calls from our students, our faculty, our alumni, our staff, our trustees, and our leaders. Most directly, we received more than 60 demands from our Black faculty and staff, Black Student Alliance, student protesters, Inside Out Alliance addressing a broad array of campus and community issues.  

Our committee has spent time sifting through each one of these to 1) distill them into specific line items, 2) combine overlapping items, 3) identify items in progress or near completion, 4) determine sites of responsibility/accountability, 5) assess need for resources, and 6) develop priorities and timelines. From the outset, we were clear that this committee will collect information and make recommendations but will not implement those recommendations. Instead, the committee will make recommendations that center community, with special attention to those most impacted by racial inequity, to create meaningful opportunities for feedback and prioritize institutional responsibility and accountability. 

In our assessment, the concerns fall into six broad areas. As we looked at these categories, our guiding question for developing priorities was: What is causing the most harm and exhaustion? Broadly speaking, those categories are:

  1. Campus Climate/Environment for staff, faculty and students
  2. Department of Public Safety
  3. Racial inequity for staff
  4. Academic Affairs
  5. Clock Tower Accords
  6. Legacies of slavery at SLU 

Within each of those categories, there are concerns that require one-time fixes and others that will require ongoing work and oversight. 

From here, our committee will produce a detailed report with specific recommendations for implementation, assessment, and accountability structures. This report will be shared with the community when it is formally presented to the Provost, the President and the Board of Trustees for approval by the end of May. 

The day to day of this work is for me not simply a matter of profession. Indeed, it is about my life, my family, my friends, my colleagues and my communities. Every day I think about the people whose lives and work made it possible for me to do this work — from my own ancestors to the enslaved Black people who helped build and sustain our university. Every day I think about the people whose deaths and sufferings ignite my desire to do this work — from Michael Brown to Xiaojie Tan. Every day in this work, I feel myself surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who remind me that this work is not my own, but it is completely ours. It is in this spirit that I write to you and solicit your companionship on our journey to becoming a fully equitable, inclusive and beloved community. 

Sincerely,

Dr. Jonathan C. Smith