Chancellor Reaffirms Commitment to Address Issues of Race, Inclusiveness, Social Justice

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy
Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy

Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy delivered the following message today in an email to the UMass Amherst campus community.

 

Dear Campus Community,

This past Friday, I joined members of the university community in a Listening Session focused on campus issues of race, inclusiveness and social justice. At that session, I heard from students who shared anger, hurt, and anxiety related to their campus experiences, sentiments expressed again at today’s Class Walkout. I also witnessed frustration at what is considered a lack of action on behalf of the university administration to address these concerns. It was troubling and disheartening to hear our students tell their stories of a campus experience shaped by racism and bias, often resulting in feelings of loneliness and isolation. I want to thank those undergraduate and graduate students, and others, who trustingly shared their experiences on Friday and who continue to challenge this university to do better, as was done at today’s Class Walkout.

“Enough talk, we want action” was a prevalent theme throughout the session and has been since we began the Diversity Strategic Planning Process last semester. I am writing today to assure all members of the campus community that my administration is committed to addressing issues of racism and bias at our university. And since last semester, we have made some progress on some of the concerns shared at the forum:

•    An Assistant Provost for Diversity, Leykia Brill, was hired to increase recruitment and retention of underrepresented undergraduate students and to support the work we do to improve the environment for Underrepresented Minority (URM) students on campus.  Although she has only been with us for six months, Assistant Provost Brill has established partnerships with more than 15 organizations that work with first generation to college, low-income and students of color to better guide our recruitment strategies; partnered with 100 Men to College Springfield to mentor and guide more than 40 of Springfield’s male high school students; developed and offered free college-preparatory workshops at the UMass Center in Springfield with a focus on underrepresented youth; and improved our targeted recruitment with visits to 14 schools across New England, New York and New Jersey. Additionally, community scholarships have increased significantly to provide more fin ancial aid to our students.  And last semester, 98 percent of the community scholarships awarded were African-American, Latino/a, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students and 54 percent were Under Represented Minority students. And, of the 36 students from community college honors programs accepted into Commonwealth Honors College through the new “Honors-to-Honors” program, 40 percent are ALANA, 30 percent are URM students, and 75 percent first generation.
 

•    To increase recruitment and retention of underrepresented doctoral and MFA students, the Graduate School is repurposing its diversity fellowship funds and combining them with a significant infusion of additional money from Provost Newman and the Deans of the Colleges. Diversity fellowship funding in the Humanities and Fine Arts, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Education, Nursing, and the Isenberg School of Management will over the next four years increase to $600,000 per year, eventually matching STEM fellowship funding. To inaugurate this change, two new fellowship programs are being implemented. The Summer Dissertation Research Fellowships will provide $4,000 fellowships in summer 2016 for eligible continuing students who have filed a dissertation prospectus or are now in the second year of an MFA program. Approximately 35 fellowships will be awarded. The Research Enhancement and Leadership (REAL) Fellowships is a multi-year fellowship providing $4,000 four-year summer f ellowships to eligible students entering in Fall 2016 (two years to MFA students). Approximately 40 fellowships will be awarded each year, with about 150 total participants when the program reaches full capacity. Students in these programs will also benefit from community-building and professional development activities under the guidance of Associate Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Krauthamer.
 

•    More support services to care for the well-being of our students have been developed. University Health Services appointed two ombudspersons: one to address healthcare concerns related to discrimination across lines of ethnicity and race; and another to address the healthcare concerns of gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. The Center for Counseling and Psychological Health (CCPH) has hired a trans clinician as well as three clinicians of color. Additionally, CCPH, in partnership with Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS) and the Stonewall Center, launched three new support groups: Connections in Color, Trans/Gender non-conforming support group and LGBTQIA community support group. CMASS is also facilitating a Queer Graduate Student of Color support group, and will work with CCPH on a “Let’s Talk” support group for spring 2016.
 

•    The system of accountability for hate crimes and acts of bias has been strengthened by creating a centralized reporting link (http://www.umass.edu/diversity/resources/bias-reporting-crisis-support ) and training hundreds of staff to respond immediately and appropriately to incidents. Sadly, such incidents are not rare events. UMass Police conduct thorough investigations of all reports and assess whether there is an active threat to public safety. Such a threat results in prompt notification to the campus community.  Perpetrators, when apprehended, are subjected to the full force of law and code.
 

•    Twenty-six new faculty of color were hired for fall 2015, representing a $6 million investment.
 

•    The Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development is increasing its emphasis on training with respect to classroom climate for diverse groups with the hiring of staff whose expertise is intercultural teaching and faculty development.

While we have moved forward in these areas, we have more work to do – and we have fallen behind in some areas. For example, thirty years ago, we were one of the first campuses in the country to implement a required diversity component in General Education. Last week, however, I heard clearly that the campus community might benefit from an academic module dedicated to issues of bias and diversity, and Provost Newman and I are now having conversations with faculty leaders around this issue.

Finally, moving forward, I am immediately implementing two initiatives. Firstly, the administration will provide additional support for student-initiated programming focused on issues of diversity and inclusion. We will meet with representatives from the Graduate Student Senate (GSS), the Student Government Association (SGA) and other programming councils to ascertain the level of funding required to create the necessary capacity. These additional resources will be available for spring semester programming. Secondly, we are now at a point in the Diversity Strategic Planning Process when I will activate the following process as presented in the plan:

Progress must be assessed in the context of overall campus and unit plans on a regular basis by the campus leadership (especially the Chancellor and specific faculty and student groups), and any necessary follow-up or review should be incorporated into future rounds of planning. In this way, the community can keep a sharp focus on how diversity issues permeate overall planning. (University of Massachusetts Amherst Diversity Strategic Plan, https://www.umass.edu/chancellor/diversity-strategic-planning-steering-committee  p. 41)

Working with campus stakeholders, including representatives from the GSS, SGA, other students, faculty and staff, we will actively monitor and report on progress by focusing on accountability, innovation, and moving forward in a timely manner. I will also be communicating with the university community soon regarding the next campus-wide forum.

I know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but just as other campuses and communities across the country struggle with issues of injustice, we too must continually work to improve our campus climate. Every member of the university has the right to live in a community defined by mutual respect, and to feel welcomed and safe. Together, I know we can make significant strides.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy