Confronting racism, injustice, and inequality - June 8

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Dear Members of the Gettysburg College Community,

A week ago, I shared with you an email in response to the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis as a result of police brutality. As we all grappled with what the video of the incident laid bare, I sought to offer our community a moment of reflection. In the days that followed, I listened as our students and alumni voiced their own lived experiences of racism and other forms of injustice and inequality, not only in our broader society, but also here at Gettysburg College, as members of this learning environment.

These painful accounts—from black and underrepresented members of our community—underscore that our College is not exempt from the rhetoric and behaviors that have devalued and dehumanized people of color in this country throughout its history. The deepest wounds we endure in life are often the ones inflicted by those we trusted. In the cases of our students and alumni who shared their stories—and those who did not but who have similar experiences—you have every right to expect better of us. Let me be clear: Black lives matter. I am grateful for your willingness to bring these experiences into the light and to advocate for change on our campus. Gettysburg College must do more. We must be better.

As I have emphasized since my arrival on campus, we have a responsibility to ensure that every member of this community has a full voice, has full membership, and has the full opportunity to do their best work. This requires a safe and supportive environment. It also means ensuring that the worth and dignity of every person of color at this College is respected and affirmed. Every educational institution owes its members that responsibility because it is both right and necessary; we have a special responsibility given the history of this institution and the values of racial justice that it demands. The College has worked hard on these issues in recent years, but we must redouble our efforts, and, as president, that commitment begins with me. It is going to take more than any single College organization or group to bring about the change we need on our campus and beyond; it will require action by all of us, guided by our mission and fortified by our commitment to justice. This is what we must expect of ourselves and of one another. I am devoted to leading this charge, and to holding us accountable for tangible progress.

Steps to progress

On Thursday, I received an open letter from Gettysburg alumni urging action. I am grateful to the signatories for raising their voices and challenging us to grow. The letter offered a number of thoughts about the hard conversations we need to have and ways to advance the priorities before us. Given the urgency of this work, it is important that we not only pursue new initiatives, but that we also build upon other key community initiatives—many of which also were noted in our alumni recommendations—that were launched or have progressed since the start of my tenure at the College last July.

For example, in the coming year we will be conducting a comprehensive review of the Gettysburg curriculum to ensure that we continue to prepare students as effectively as possible for a rapidly changing and interconnected world. Our current curriculum includes an Informed Citizenship goal which prescribes two cultural diversity course requirements. It is critical that the review process goes back to first principles and reimagines how the Gettysburg curriculum will help broaden students’ understanding of diversity, racism, and marginalization.

In addition to our focus on a diversified and culturally responsive curriculum, we also are taking strides in diversifying our tenure-track faculty, most notably through the efforts of our Inclusion Partner Program, the conversion of two Gondwe Fellow positions to tenure-track positions, and a recent $800,000 Mellon Grant, which resulted in the hiring of five new tenure-track faculty from diverse backgrounds. The Mellon Grant also afforded us resources to substantially revise existing courses and create new courses that demonstrate the incorporation of diversity and inclusion efforts. To date, 25 courses have been reimagined or newly-created thanks to this grant.

We recognize, of course, that our students do not spend all of their time in the classroom. There is essential social, cultural, and intellectual development that occurs outside of traditional curricular settings as well. To that end, as we look to the semester ahead, the College is working on opportunities that will focus on helping community members navigate, bridge, and find strength from difference. For example, we have a team working on a plan that will update our First-Year Orientation programs with a focus on bias in our campus community, ensuring that all new members joining our community are aware of our expectations. Additionally, our Greek Life system has implemented new programs and initiatives over the last three years including dialogues hosted by the College and the Greek Life Equity and Inclusion Committee; mandatory education for chapter and council leadership on topics such as implicit bias, bias prevention, and cultural competency, including the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI); and, mandatory attendance at workshops and programs focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion for all new members.

These curricular and co-curricular initiatives are not a comprehensive list of the efforts we have undertaken to make Gettysburg a more dynamic and inclusive place. Nor are they by any means sufficient. We have much to do to ensure our investments and commitments are authentically felt by all of our members—across all dimensions of our education—and that they make a real difference in the day-to-day lives of our students.

Moving forward

As we move forward, I have asked our Bias Awareness Resource Committee (BARC) and Campus Climate Study Implementation Group to work together, starting by understanding the stories and ideas brought to the fore by our community. Among the areas I have asked to be studied, and to receive recommendations by July 31, 2020 on means of improvement, are:

  • The tools and resources we provide faculty to educate, mentor, and advise an increasingly diverse student body.
  • College protocols for bias incidents between all constituencies—on campus, in the local community, and beyond.
  • Campus programming and events, and specifically whether they are inclusive for underrepresented populations, and prove intentional in their education on social issues and their commitment to bridging difference through open and honest dialogue.
  • The ways in which we enhance awareness and understanding among students, faculty, administrators, staff, and senior leadership at the College, and whether to establish a required bias incident education module.

We also will be establishing a new Inclusive Excellence in Teaching Award, given annually to a Gettysburg College faculty member who personifies our community aspirations. I have asked the groups mentioned above to assess any steps necessary to have the award given beginning next academic year.

As noted in my letter from last week, I have convened a group of diverse students to advise me and the College on how we can advance our commitment to the work of belonging and inclusion. I will continue to benefit from that group’s advice and wisdom, and anticipate bringing together this group, together with some alumni of color, to broaden our perspectives and base of experience.

This more immediate work will be followed by a host of intermediate- and long-term objectives currently in discussion at College. The Diversity and Inclusion Office will soon be in touch regarding how you can add your voice and perspective to this planning. The completion of this near-term work will lead into our second Campus Climate Study in the spring of 2021, which will equip our Diversity and Inclusion Office, as well as our senior leadership team, with the data and insights necessary to add to our intermediate- and long-term strategies designed to heighten our standards for diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

In the spirit of advancing this work, and on the heels of our latest Current Issues Dialogue—hosted by the Office of Multicultural Engagement (OME)—I was heartened to see that our Black Student Union, alongside our alumni, will come together to support one another and to rally for change at a meeting later today. I also encourage our community members to participate in a Candlelight Vigil for Peace tonight at 7 p.m., hosted by the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. And, finally, please explore our Musselman Library diversity and inclusion guide if you are interested in readings on these important topics.

I also want to remind our community that the robust activities we had planned for the spring are being rescheduled and updated for the fall. We will share more information with you once event details have been finalized.

I believe in this community and in our potential to make a difference in the world. We must all be accountable for instilling and sustaining fundamental change, as we redefine our hopes as shared expectations. As voices across the world have rightly made clear, these issues will not be resolved through words alone. It will take concrete action, determination, and a renewed and unrelenting sense of urgency. I ask that you, and our entire Gettysburg College community, join me in undertaking this meaningful and long-overdue work.


Bob Iuliano