The University of Redlands held its first Diversity Town Hall September 28, launching its diversity strategic planning process. The event, hosted by Senior Diversity and Inclusion Officer Christopher Jones, featured 16 speakers, including U of R President Ralph W. Kuncl, who welcomed participants with the following remarks.
Good afternoon. We're all gathered this afternoon to learn more about how we, as a University community, can strengthen our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Thank you for being here.
One of the challenges of presiding over an institution such as the University of Redlands is keeping the community informed and united through chaotic times—and there has been no shortage of such times in recent years. Our country is simultaneously facing a historic pandemic, a crisis in the real economy of jobs and wages, and also an increasingly polarized citizenry. Moreover, the last several months have turned our worlds upside down and exposed levels of inequality across race and class in our society.
Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion is crucial to the University's health and our educational purpose, and in line with a longstanding commitment expressed for decades in our mission statement. Throughout the last two decades at Redlands, we have undertaken several steps trying to create a more inclusive campus: In the early 2000s, the University launched the Campus Diversity and Inclusion (originally called the Diversity Office), and Race and Ethnic Studies became an academic major. In 2015, the Open Forum on Diversity and Race Relations led to the formation of the University-wide Council on Inclusiveness and Community or UCIC, which is made up of students, faculty, staff, and administrators. In 2018, we brought in diversity consultant Dr. Jesús Treviño to identify strengths and challenges in campus inclusiveness; he also named areas where the University could improve, including curriculum and co-curricular programming. The recruitment of Senior Diversity and Inclusion Officer Christopher Jones, who arrived at the U of R in February and joined my Cabinet in July, is the most recent milestone.
Right now, however, we are living in a moment of heightened awareness of how far we still need to go. Recent national events surely have impressed upon you, certainly upon me and the rest of University leadership, just how urgent it is to continue to work toward a blueprint for diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus. And that is why we're here today—to harness the purpose and power of our community.
The force of education is still vital, even as we are all teaching, learning, and working remotely. That force is integrated from the plurality of life experiences, ideas, and values we each bring. By making systemic changes that recognize the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we will actually become a place that values constructive disagreement as a part of intellectual inquiry, problem-solving, and knowledge creation. The purpose of our inquiry is to realize a welcoming and just community here that then impacts the society in which we engage.
From that contemporary framework, I'd like to highlight some of the most critical steps University leaders have undertaken. These are examples just since June.
First example . . . we have engaged a national survey developed at UCLA to capture the perspectives of faculty, students, and staff/administration, together and separately, to gain a more accurate sense of the climate for diversity and inclusion on our campuses. This will inform how we craft DEI programs and will help envision additional initiatives toward greater institutional diversity and inclusion in the near future.
Second example . . . we have revised the University’s anti-discrimination and equity policy to include language that clearly outlines the procedures for making a report and the process to investigate complaints. This policy is supported by Office of Equity and Title IX.
A third example is how we also tapped into collective university creativity and wisdom by creating the “Inclusive Community and Justice Fund.” That fund is now supporting seven projects submitted by faculty, staff, and students from across the University—ranging from the School of Education’s Center for Educational Justice version 2.0 to a first-generation study abroad program.
The Board of Trustees has committed to completing specific initiatives as well. Its first priority is to increase racial, ethnic, and gender diversity among its own members over the next three years. Trustees will also engage in DEI training, as will other groups at the University, and consult with advisory groups such as the UCIC and the Black Student, Faculty, Staff, and Administrator Association.
You will be hearing more about these and other initiatives from other people today.
We can collectively make this moment in history an opportunity to not only say what we believe but demonstrate what we will do about teaching, learning, and equity. We can model our values in the classroom; we can embrace them in our residences and lounges; we can realize them in our teams, cohorts, ensembles, and gatherings to express the heart of this University.
This will take a great deal of effort from all of us. But because diversity and inclusion is a fundamental part of being a great institution in the world we live in today, we need to lay out the groundwork for significant work to come.
It is up to all of us to be the difference through our own lives. But I quickly add this: that even when it may feel like the events of our day-to-day lives are beyond anything we can control, the University of Redlands can act as a beacon—an institutional force that guides and supports everyone who is part of the University. But it will take consistent work, collaboration, and—more than anything else—the will of the community.
I'd like to draw inspiration and pay tribute to an extraordinary woman, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who worked toward righting the many inequities she saw throughout the legal system. She said, "Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time." This quote is meaningful to me because it implies how we each can contribute to the good we want to see in this world. Our journey is here . . . and the future of inclusion at Redlands is here. It starts with some intentional steps, yet our success depends on the contributions of every member of the Bulldog family.
So, let's go and take those early steps in what is a journey of infinite steps to make us ever better.