Taking Action at UMass Amherst to Combat Racism: A Message from Nefertiti Walker, Interim Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

In response to recent acts of racism and related violence in the nation, Nefertiti A. Walker, interim vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, sent an email to the campus community on June 3. It addressed specific measures to be taken on campus to combat racism.

That email reads as follows:

Dear Campus Community, 

Today, I write to you with a range of emotions. Fear for protesters, some of whom encounter fierce violence. Disappointment in our country for not reckoning with our intimate relationship with anti-Black racism. Frustrated at our institutions for failing to undo the institutionalized racism that we know to be true. 

For years, Black people and allies have been pleading for the end of racism and the violence that follows. Most recently, we cried out for change after the lost lives of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, and more recently Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. This list is not conclusive. This list is void of many lives lost to anti-Black racism, and countless other lives devastated by the omnipresence of our nation’s most pervasive disease, racism. 

We have been repeatedly challenged by this violence and by other disturbing acts – increased anti-Asian racism, growing xenophobia and escalating anti-Semitic attacks. This cannot, and will not, be our normal at UMass. We are hopeful and encouraged by the work we have been doing to combat racism and will continue to work tirelessly to undo it in our community. 

To that point, we are immediately getting to work with the following:
  • Respectful Workplace Training Series. In collaboration with the Office of Equity and Inclusion, Workplace Learning & Development and The Partnership for Worker Education, the purpose is to educate staff about resources available and supervisors (including faculty) on their responsibilities to ensure a university work environment grounded in antiracism, respect and inclusion.
  • Critical Incident Team. We are developing a triage team to respond consistently to critical campus issues and lead with humanity. More details to follow.
  • Campus Academy Initiative. The University of Massachusetts Police Department is applying for a team of campus and student leaders (including UMPD representation) to attend a three-day Campus Academy Initiative workshop in August 2020, offered by the Divided Community Project. The aim of the program is to immerse campus leaders in a curriculum aimed at strengthening and expanding campus-specific conflict-resolution capacity and practices. UMPD is committed to participating, as part of our community, in any training, seminar or effort to increase levels of understanding, prevention and responsiveness to critical issues like the ones we continue to see play out across our country.
  • Increased Data-driven Climate Assessments. We know that within our UMass community, we have micro cultures where people live – in their academic departments, classrooms and residence halls. We need to better understand these climates. Therefore, we will launch a series of assessments to measure and better understand the micro cultures that often impact our community most. This data will then be aggregated and live on the www.umass.edu/diversity website, providing transparency and the ability to inform the actions of the newly formed councils and task force below.
  • The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Council. This council will convene immediately and be charged by the Chancellor and chaired by the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This group will meet regularly to assess, evaluate and advise about the university’s DEI policies and practices. Their meeting minutes will be uploaded to: www.umass.edu/diversity
  • The DEI Student Council. This will be co-chaired by the Senior Director of DEI  and the Assistant Chancellor of Advocacy, Inclusion and Support Programs. This group will meet with student DEI representatives to discuss and advance the most pressing student DEI issues. Similarly, their meeting minutes will be uploaded to: www.umass.edu/diversity.
  • The Task Force for Anti-racism. In response to the most recent anti-Black violence as well as the increase of other types of racism nationally, this group will be a collection of faculty, staff and students who will work to undo institutional racism in our community. They will be chaired or co-chaired by a combination of faculty, staff and students. More details to follow.

Finally, we will work with each major business unit on campus to set goals related to diversity (representation/under-representation), equity (access and opportunity), and inclusion (feeling welcome and sense of belonging). Leaders will be responsible for setting a culture of inclusion for all people in their area. Therefore, we will set and seek to meet DEI goals as they align with our campus strategic goal of inclusive excellence.

We encourage our students, staff and faculty to exercise their right to speak against the injustice they see in our society, and we implore you to join us in being part of the solutions. These resources will guide and support you in your quest for equity.

Racism, in its many forms, did not emerge overnight or in the past week. It has matured for hundreds of years. Therefore, it will take time and deliberate effort to confront. It will require intentional goal setting, data-informed decision making, and anti-racist action, to truly achieve our goal of inclusive excellence. 


Nefertiti A. Walker, Ph.D.
Interim Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Chief Diversity Officer