Dear Longwood Community,
This national moment of reckoning regarding systemic racial inequality and discrimination is a call to action, not just words.
In discussions over recent days with students, university leaders, alumni and the Board of Visitors, our governing board, I have been focused on actions we can take now to make Longwood a more welcoming and more equitable place for all.
Today I am announcing the appointment of a campus Equity Action Task Force, with a broad charge to develop actionable steps to be implemented for fall 2020. Additionally, I am specifically asking for their help implementing three particular steps I want Longwood to take --- on a timeline of weeks, not months or years. These steps are described below.
The task force includes students, faculty, alumni, staff and three members of my Presidential Cabinet --- to ensure this work is given the prominence and cross-university commitment it warrants. The co-chairs will be Dr. Larissa Smith, Provost and VP for Academic Affairs, and Cameron Patterson ’10, Managing Director of the Moton Museum. The other members will be VP for Student Affairs Dr. Tim Pierson; Dean of Admissions Jason Faulk; Dr. Naomi Johnson, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, and Jonathan Page, Director of Multicultural Affairs, who co-chair the University Diversity Council; Dr. Erica Brown-Meredith ’95, Assistant Professor of Social Work; SGA President Brandon Bowen ‘21; SGA Senator Autumn High ’23; and Byron Bracey ’81 of the Alumni Association Board. I will also ask our incoming police chief, Doug Mooney, to work with the Task Force on steps this summer such as expanded diversity and inclusion training for the University Police Department.
This task force will focus on timely action items, and by no means replaces important long-term initiatives already in place. Longwood’s 2019-2025 Strategic Plan makes diversity a forefront institutional priority. The University Diversity Council and its subcommittees remain hard at work on an institutional diversity plan, which will address many areas, including improving faculty diversity. Lastly, the Bicentennial Initiative was established in February to study aspects of Longwood’s institutional history, particularly with regard to race relations. As part of its broad scope of work, the initiative will explore the history of people and places on campus, providing interpretation, context, and recommendations. The importance of such work has only heightened with national events these last few weeks. My own strong engagement with federal, state, and local officials also continues.
But amidst these initiatives, there is clearly a need and calling to take substantive and concrete steps now for the University. While I look forward to the ideas of this task force for any appropriate timely steps, here are three action items on which I’m asking their help to move forward implementing this summer.
1. A Commitment Against Incidents of Bias or Discrimination.
Any incident of discrimination goes against Longwood’s deepest values, and also its rules. But I believe we need a stronger, and more straightforward, process in place on campus to ensure any such reports are addressed seriously and fairly.
I hope all of you are aware of Longwood’s policies and resources around Title IX, which concerns gender-based discrimination, harassment, or assault. These include a designated Title IX coordinator, support structures for victims, and a fair process to ensure complaints are investigated thoroughly.
Many fewer universities have something similar for Title VI, the portion of the federal civil rights law that concerns racial discrimination. Longwood can be a leader in higher education by developing a comparable Title VI office and set of resources. I am committed to doing so, and am asking the task force to make initial recommendations for how this can work, with an eye toward having it in place in a matter of weeks.
2. Engagement By Every Student with Moton and Farmville’s Civil Rights History.
Longwood remains, to my knowledge, the only university in America that has a formal partnership with a civil rights museum. The Moton Museum honors Prince Edward’s consequential civil rights history, and since our partnership began in 2015, we have seen more and more Longwood students pass through -- as part of classes, extracurricular groups, or athletics teams. Many describe engaging with that history as an especially eye-opening and meaningful part of their college experience. It’s not uncommon to see graduates who have become teachers returning with their own students on field trips.
For some time I’ve felt every Longwood student should have that experience. Now is the time to make that so. The museum has something to teach all of us. It teaches about the particularly powerful and often painful history of African-Americans fighting segregation here in our community at a key moment in American history. And more broadly it shows how all young people and their advocates can use the levers of democracy to make meaningful change when faced with whatever forms of discrimination and injustice they may encounter at their own moment in history.
I am asking this task force to work with Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Athletics and others so we can build engagement with Moton, and our local history, into the experience of every Longwood student.
3. Conversations on Campus.
Last but not least, it is clear to me many in the Longwood community, particularly our students, will return this fall profoundly affected by recent national events. They are seeking space to converse, listen, process, heal, and develop plans for action. Some of that work has been taking place virtually, but there is no substitute for in-person conversations when we are back together. These conversations may be difficult. But as a training ground of citizen leaders, Longwood has a particular obligation to guide and facilitate them. I will ask the task force to recommend how best to structure this process. I believe with our culture of mutual respect and dialogue we can move forward productively.
Longwood has changed over its history, and it must continue to change and strive to improve. Compared to a decade ago, twice the proportion of our students identify as black or African-American. Our proportion of students from all underrepresented minority groups has also grown significantly, and now stands at more than one-quarter.
With growing diversity comes welcome and appropriate energy pushing all of us to live up to Longwood’s ideals. We have made progress in terms of university leadership (especially our governing board) and some with faculty numbers --- but not nearly as much as I would like. Hard work remains. Still, I believe despite our diversity of backgrounds and ideas, our students, faculty and staff share common values: true collegiality, mutual respect and a desire to be active citizens making our community, and our country, better. These shared values equip us to navigate difficult challenges and conversations regarding our differences.
Again, the steps I am announcing today are by no means our only efforts in this regard. But I hope they will give some urgency and purpose to that work, focusing us on tangible goals where we can make progress, looking ahead to when we are back together again soon.