As you know, this has been a challenging and difficult semester for many of our nation’s colleges and universities, a semester during which students, faculty, and staff members have tried to wrestle with incidents of racism, bigotry, and intolerance, and with the many questions that those incidents have raised. As you also know, our own campuses have been tainted by a series of such incidents. While the occurrence of bias incidents is unsettling on any campus (and indeed in any American setting), it is especially unsettling on a Jesuit college or university campus.
After all, as a Jesuit university, we commit ourselves to being and/or becoming an institution that is both Catholic and catholic. That is to say, we commit our selves to being–as the word “catholic” implies–universal. But what exactly does that mean? Simply this: that we commit ourselves to being and becoming a community that welcomes and honors all who come to us– whether as students, faculty members, or members of our staff. It also means that we pledge to treat and to surround every member of the campus community with reverence, respect, and deep affection.
The bias incidents committed on our campuses this year have, however, been more than merely unsettling. They have shaken us to the core and undermined our sense of community. They have also (most troubling) inflicted pain on members of our campus community. They have challenged us directly to engage in both reflection and renewal.
Therefore, after consulting with the cabinet, the Faculty Senate, various student groups on our campuses, and select alumni, on Thursday of last week, I informed the Board of Trustees that I would form a Task Force on Diversity to study the climate on campus, review the various programs that we already have in place to nurture a more welcoming and affirming “catholic” culture on our campuses, and develop recommendations for myself and the cabinet that will enable us to address the obstacles that have stood in the way of our ability to live up to the ideals that we have (as a Jesuit university) always espoused.
Dr. Peter Vaughan, Dean Emeritus of the Graduate School of Social Service, has generously agreed to chair the Task Force. Its member (listed in full below) have been selected from the faculty, student body, and administration for their judgment, experience, and ability to advocate for marginalized members of the University community.
In extending this invitation, I am asking a great deal of its members, as the work that must be done is weighty and will be time-consuming. I expect the task force will meet monthly, and that it will conclude its business by the end of the spring semester. I plan to convene the first meeting of the task force before the end of the semester.
Let me assure you that this is not the time-tested academic exercise of interring an issue with a committee: the charge to the task force will include a request for recommendations the University can act upon, and action we will take. I appreciate the time commitment I am asking its members to make, and I will honor that commitment with tangible results.
The Members of the Task Force are:
- Peter Vaughan, PhD, (Chair), Dean Emeritus of the Graduate School of Social Service
- Eva Badowska, PhD, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
- Nicole Bryan, Associate Dean and Director of Business Programs, School of Professional and Continuing Studies
- Jenifer Campbell, Director of Residential Life at Lincoln Center
- Napoleon Canete, Jr., FCLC ’17
- Anthony Carter, FCRH ’76, Retired Chief Diversity Officer, Johnson & Johnson
- Mark Chapman, PhD, Associate Professor of African and African American Studies
- Keith Eldredge, Dean of Students at Lincoln Center
- John Feerick, Esq., Dean Emeritus of the Law School, Founder and Senior Counsel of the Feerick Center for Social Justice, and the Sidney C. Norris Chair of Law in Public Service
- Christine Firer Hinze, PhD, Professor of Theology and Director of the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies
- Meg Knapp, PhD Candidate, Graduate School of Social Service
- Lesley Massiah-Arthur, Associate Vice President for Government Relations and Urban Affairs
- Juan Carlos Matos, Assistant Dean and Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs
- Jennie Park-Taylor, PhD, Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology
- Rebecca Peters, GABELLI ’12, ’13, Project Accountant, Empire Outlets, and Real Estate Investor
- Clara Rodriguez, PhD, Professor of Sociology
- Paola Joaquin Rosso, FCRH ’17
- Patrick Ryan, SJ, Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society
- TJ Strazzeri, GABELLI ’18
- Marc Valera, Vice President for Facilities Management
- Michael Trerotola, Assistant University Secretary and Special Assistant to the President
I should also mention that since September, departments and individuals across the University have been taking other initiatives against all kinds of bias: the Faculty Senate reauthorized its own task force on gender and race equity and faculty diversity and retention (separate from the task force I have outlined above) and approved a motion “strongly applauding” its work; the Division of Student Life held a daylong in-service program on diversity and bias for all of its staff (this was in addition to the division’s normal training schedule); and finally, I have been consulting with a group of African-American alumni that I formed over the summer to help the University address issues of race, justice, and diversity. They have been an incalculable source of wise counsel to me and to the cabinet, and one of their members, Dr. Anthony Carter, has agreed to serve on the task force.
In addition, next week I will chair a meeting of the President’s Advisory Council–a governance group that includes all of the vice presidents and deans as well as a representative of the Faculty Senate–with an agenda focused entirely on diversity. We will be led through that agenda by Dr. Larry Davis, a visiting scholar in the Graduate School of Social Service. I have also met with the student advisory councils on the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses to hear their concerns.
Please know, finally, that the members of the cabinet and I are keenly aware of the challenges that our community is facing at this time. Although those challenges are daunting, I am consoled and encouraged by the courage, vision, and passion that our faculty, staff, and students have shown in the course of the past few months. We have more work to do, certainly, but we are committed to that work, and to living up to our Jesuit, Catholic (and catholic) ideals.
Joseph M. McShane, SJ