A Message from University of Hartford President Gregory Woodward
University of Hartford President Gregory Woodward sent the following message to the University community on August 18, 2020.
Dear UHart Community,
“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war.”
— Congressman John Lewis
Many conversations have been taking place here at the University over the past several months as we, individually and as a community, continue to reflect on the killing of George Floyd and other racially motivated acts of violence and injustice. For our nation, and also for us as an institution of higher education, these horrific events have been a call to action. It is our mission to contribute to the betterment of society through learning, personal growth, and the creation of knowledge. It is also our responsibility to recognize the role we must also play in disrupting and dismantling systems of privilege and oppression, including action or inaction that has detrimental impacts on marginalized communities. In addition, COVID-19 and its devastating and disproportionate impact on people of color and the economically vulnerable, has once again highlighted the stark reality of systemic racism and unequal access to health care that continues to plague our country.
I want to thank all of you who have participated in these conversations, including those who have reached out to share your experiences. Many of you have expressed your ideas to help us become a better University. Others have recounted hurtful, disappointing, and regretful actions and experiences that do not represent our mission and values. I am acutely aware that sharing such important and, in some instances, deeply painful experiences is difficult. Please know that we have heard you.
I want to take this opportunity to again state unequivocally that the University of Hartford strongly condemns all forms of discrimination, bias, racism, bigotry, and hate. Our Values Statement underscores our commitment to diversity and inclusion. The statement is designed to be both descriptive and aspirational. It is who we are and who we aspire to be. The University of Hartford continues to work on creating a welcoming, safe, and supportive community for all students, staff, and faculty. We need to talk to each other and listen to each other. We need to recognize, acknowledge, and then work to eradicate inequity and injustice.
Today, I wish to share some of the actions already in place and outline additional steps we are in the process of implementing. I am proud of the many advancements we have made on the 12-Point Action Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from 2017, and at the same time, recognize how much more there is to do. Moving forward, we will continue to center this work as a core institutional priority and build on the efforts that have been undertaken with particular focus and energy over the past several years.
New and continuing action items:
Christine Grant, executive director of diversity and community engagement, has been appointed to the President’s Cabinet. Christine has provided leadership for numerous programs and initiatives supporting diversity and inclusion over the past several years. In that work, she has collaborated with students, faculty and staff across the campus, in addition to her extensive work engaging the Hartford community. She brings an important voice and a wealth of knowledge and experience to our efforts and leadership team. I look forward to her contribution to the Cabinet and the University.
The President’s Steering Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, co-chaired by Christine Grant and Professor Jane Horvath, was established in August 2019. Its charge and composition were developed following a review of the 12-Point Action Plan and had as its foundation the work of the Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The Steering Committee is charged with conducting a thorough examination of institutional policies, practices, and procedures; reviewing and monitoring efforts to recruit and retain diverse populations of students, faculty, and staff; reviewing and monitoring efforts to expand the content of academic programs and offerings; and reviewing our campus culture and climate to ensure we are a welcoming and inclusive community. The findings from the Committee’s work are helping us formulate action steps for systemic change as we embed DEI in every aspect of University life.
Under the leadership of Aaron Isaacs, dean of students, the Office of Student Engagement and Inclusion was formed with the goal of coalescing the student experience and bringing together the Office of Multicultural Programs, the Center for Community Service, Student Centers and Administration, and the Student Government Association. It embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion as foundational pillars. The Office of Student Engagement and Inclusion is working with student leaders and organizations to ensure that programming, budgets, and activities are diverse and inclusive. We are committed to diversifying hiring committees for student organizations and opportunities like resident assistants and Red Caps, and will work with clubs, departments, schools, and colleges to discuss and identify area-specific challenges and solutions.
The Office of Admission will continue to recruit, admit, and enroll students from historically marginalized backgrounds. Student Financial Assistance and the Office of Institutional Advancement will expand efforts to identify and allocate scholarship and support opportunities for historically underrepresented groups. Building upon this year’s 10 percent increase in retention of students of color, the Retention Committee is enhancing our student retention efforts, working with faculty advisors and with the Center for Student Success.
We continue to improve our recruitment, search, and hiring processes in order to increase the diversity to our faculty and staff. We acknowledge the need to continue to be proactive and intentional in these efforts. The President’s Office for Diversity and Community Engagement has worked with Human Resources and Development (HRD) to offer campus-wide professional development training, review and revise staff hiring practices, and create a hiring pipeline structure to enhance our efforts to hire diverse staff.
HRD has created a task force to review our current staff hiring practices. The Office of the Provost has been increasing efforts to hire a more diverse full-time faculty. Each year, the search and hiring process is reviewed and improved, and we mandate implicit bias training for all faculty search committees. The Office of the Provost also convenes a Committee on Diversifying the Faculty to address the recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty. Progress for both faculty and staff is monitored by the President’s Steering Committee and we are establishing metrics to evaluate our progress in recruiting and training a talented and diverse pool of applicants and employees. Our progress will be shared annually with the President, Cabinet, and the University Board of Regents.
An inventory of our course and program offerings is underway in full recognition of the key role a diverse curriculum has in preparing UHart students and graduates. The Office of the Provost is working with the deans, the Steering Committee, and the Faculty Senate to identify gaps in our course offerings. We will provide support to faculty for curriculum development as they work to embed the full array of diversity in course offerings and programs across the colleges and majors to promote intercultural competence, equity, and social justice.
Our Department of Public Safety has been reorganized and restructured to better reflect the needs of the community. Its function is to help ensure our community is a safe and welcoming place for all of its members. The changes are designed to reflect the centrality of that important task and call for meaningful interaction with campus to address community needs. These include a move away from a reliance on vehicles to a greater use of bicycles and foot patrols, the creation of a public safety satellite office near the residence halls, a student advisory board and team, and mandatory unconscious bias and de-escalation trainings for all public safety officers.
The University will continue to offer a wide array of trainings, workshops, and lectures for students, staff, and faculty. Over the last two years, we have had inspiring speakers such as Angela Davis, Michael Eric Dyson, Zachary Wood, and Nikki Giovanni on campus to create space and opportunities for challenging conversations, learning, and listening. This past academic year, the senior staff and I participated in racial equity training with an external consultant, and each member will be charged with carrying this work forward in their organizations. Our campus education sessions on overcoming implicit bias and avoiding macroaggressions, with support and engagement from alumni in these fields, are always full. Our community is hungry for these vital opportunities and we must provide more of them.
Finally, we are committed to engaging the campus community—the Student Government Association, Staff Council, Faculty Senate, and Office of Student Engagement, working with the President’s Steering Committee, will create regular, ongoing, and meaningful opportunities for listening sessions on issues pertaining to the campus climate and culture. These sessions present an opportunity to gain input and insight from all segments of the University and our alumni, and will be used by all campus groups as part of our collective charge to assess the campus climate.
Thank you for joining me in this important and urgent work. The University of Hartford has much to do and we have a solid foundation on which to build. Please join us as we dedicate ourselves to advancing the work of building a campus culture and community that is more inclusive and culturally responsive. Let it be our generation that the historians talk about when they pick up their pens.