On Jan. 21, I had the opportunity to meet with several students of color from UW System institutions and members of the United Council.
Some of the students joining us here today were among those to discuss how to improve the experiences of students of color on our campuses.
We talked about what the UW System has done to close achievement gaps between students of color and white students. We talked about our efforts to improve graduation rates for students of color. We have done a lot.
Are we where we need to be? No. Have we hit all the benchmarks and goals we set in the past? No, we have not.
I think we all walked away from that first conversation feeling that it was a positive discussion, and I appreciate the students’ willingness to meet with me.
The issues we discussed are complex. In many cases, the negative experiences and the challenges students face on our campuses stem from issues, hardships, and injustices in society.
I talked with the students about this. They shared their personal stories and those of their peers. They shared their concerns, criticisms, and perspectives about the things that are not working well enough and the effect such actions are having on their learning and their lives.
It troubles me, and that’s why I’m glad all of us in the UW System continue to work on important, very tangible action items to ultimately improve the experiences of all students, staff and faculty members. Can we and should we do more? Yes, and I have asked the students to help us in that effort.
I also agreed to share a statement after the first meeting with students, so I am sharing that with you now.
First, we need to remember that many UW System students of color at the institutions throughout our state have not had the time or space or platform to share their experiences, be they good or bad. We need to listen to their issues carefully and thoughtfully.
We are working on a plan to expand the conversation to campuses throughout the UW System. We want to engage more students, including students of color and elected student leaders directly on their campuses. We are asking Chancellors and members of the Board to make the time and space necessary to facilitate a dialogue on several campuses. Chancellors met with me last week. They are already doing much of this good work, and they assured me they will continue to support our efforts ahead.
Secondly, we have been planning to form and launch a UW System diversity council for quite some time. There will be an array of stakeholders at the table, and the council will include student voices to help hold us more accountable.
Thirdly: We are in the process of hiring of a new Special Assistant for Diversity and Inclusion, which is part of another long-standing priority and initiative now becoming reality. This colleague will be charged with coordinating and monitoring internal activities to ensure the UW System and UW System Administration are demonstrating results and improving outcomes. The search committee has been formed and the process is nearly complete.
We have also been reaching out to the community on our own. As you know, we’re developing our next strategic plan. We have been consistently hearing that diversity and inclusivity must be UW System priorities as we have hosted listening sessions throughout the state.
The feedback and guidance from a communities-of-color stakeholder group meeting we hosted in early January reinforced what we have heard — that diversity and inclusiveness cannot be a separate or silo’d priority in the strategic plan.
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge one of the featured items on every February Board agenda: The annual Regents Diversity awards. Today, we will recognize outstanding faculty and staff members from three different institutions.
We honor the strides they are making in the support and advancement of our students. I think these colleagues, their work, and their achievements speak strongly to our Systemwide commitment to diversity.
I’m ready to move forward in a spirit of partnership as we continue our important conversation, planning and action and, ultimately, all work together to improve the human condition throughout the state.