Advancing racial equity at UIC
Dear members of the UIC community,
I am writing to provide an update on our University’s efforts to address structural racism.
Vice Chancellor Rex Tolliver and Associate Chancellor and Vice Provost Amalia Pallares have been coordinating the activities of four working groups of students, faculty, staff and community members that are guiding our efforts. Advancing racial equity requires collective vision and work as a campus community. Therefore, I would also like to recognize and commend the work of our Deans, faculty, staff, and students in our colleges, as they move forward with their own plans in their respective units.
Throughout the summer, two of the working groups – the Student Life and Support Working Group co-chaired by Jocelyn Bravo, Dr. Fred McCall and Dr. Nadine Peacock, and the Community Engagement Working Group co-chaired by Angela Ellison, Keith Lewis, and Dr. Jennifer Brier – completed their review of information and gathered the necessary feedback to inform recommendations they recently submitted. I would like to thank the members of these working groups for their effective and expeditious work in this process.
The Student Life and Support Working Group identified key priorities to strengthen our outreach to prospective Black students and create a more welcoming and supportive environment for our existing students. These include extending the mental health services on campus through new staff members, creating more spaces of support for Black student wellness, improving Black student recruitment and retention at UIC, and recruiting more Black faculty members given their vital role in mentoring and supporting Black students.
The Community Engagement Committee called for a pressing need to address structural inequalities and racism in our neighboring communities. Their key priorities included creating an Office of Community Collaboration that would coordinate the efforts of units, faculty, students and staff across campus, enabling the implementation of new initiatives such as the Strikeforce – a collaborative effort of faculty, students and staff in response to COVID-19 – and developing neighborhood hubs to support our education and health initiatives in collaboration with local community organizations.
Based on these recommendations, we are committing to immediately implementing the following:
- Increase the number of mental health counselors. These counselors will be available to offer mental health services to our students, create new spaces of wellness for Black and other students of color, and help train and educate our campus on mental health, so we can all learn how to better serve and support our students.
- Provide more resources to the African American Academic Network (AAAN) to expand their recruitment and engagement efforts. AAAN will work in coordination with Academic and Enrollment Services to increase enrollment of Black students and support their transition to UIC.
- Double the Bridge to Faculty Program from 10 to 20 positions for the 2021-2022 academic year. This is a post-doc to faculty program initiated in 2019 that aims to diversify our faculty, with a special focus on departments with few or no underrepresented faculty. These twenty new scholars we will recruit will be in addition to the ten scholars we recruited for the 2020 academic year.
- Create an Office of Community Collaboration reporting to the Associate Chancellor and Vice Provost for Diversity. This office will provide administrative, technical and grant-writing support to facilitate existing and new collaborations of faculty, students, staff and several campus units engaged in community outreach. It will also coordinate and initiate a pilot community hub program in two Chicago neighborhoods.
These initiatives represent just the first phase of implementation of our Advancing Racial Equity commitment. We are starting with these initiatives because they will enable us to move quickly and create meaningful change for this academic year.
In the near future, we will announce additional action-items related to the other stated priorities of these working groups, including increased financial and housing support, more extended bias and anti-racism training, and specific community initiatives that the Office of Community Collaboration will be ready to undertake.
Our next phase will also be informed by two additional developments. Because of the critical importance of diversifying our faculty and student body, following the recommendation of the Black faculty we will engage external advisors to assist us in this process. These external advisors are Dr. Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, Dr. Earl Lewis, Director and Founder of the Center for Social Solutions at the University of Michigan and former President of the Mellon Foundation, and Dr. Claude Steele, Lucie Stern Professor Emeritus in the Social Sciences at Stanford University and former Provost of the University of California Berkeley. These advisors will be meeting with campus constituencies later this month.
We have also established a Staff Working Group, co-chaired by Deidre Rush and Gerald Smith. This group will provide recommendations on identifying ways in which we can better recruit, retain, and support Black staff members at UIC.
Finally, the UIC Public Safety Board co-chaired by Jauwan Hall and Dr. Karriem Watson, has already started their work and will be providing their first recommendations on reimagining public safety at UIC, especially pertaining to racial equity and social justice, later this semester.
During these trying times that we face as a University, city, country, and world, I will continue to update you regularly as we make progress in advancing racial equity and creating the kind of community where everyone feels included and all voices are heard.
Michael D. Amiridis