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Advancing racial justice at Stanford

Dear Stanford community,

The events of recent weeks following the murder of George Floyd have made us all painfully aware of the shameful legacy of anti-Black racism and how it endures in our communities and our country.

Unfortunately, our campus is not immune from such pernicious forces. We must recognize the stereotyping, stigmatization and marginalization of diverse individuals and communities that occur on our own campus and work to tackle them. We have made some progress in the past several years through our IDEAL initiative, overseen by Provost Drell, but we need to do more and act with even greater urgency to create an inclusive, accessible, diverse and equitable university for all our members. And we need to start now, including working to eliminate the anti-Black racism that has been laid bare by the events of the past weeks.

Beyond our own campus, as an institution of higher learning we have an additional responsibility to ensure that our research and educational endeavors are sufficiently focused on helping society more broadly to evolve beyond the scourge of racism that has been present in our country for far too long.

As I mentioned in my June 10 message, for the past year we have been working with students on ways to better support our Black community, even as we have continued to advance the overarching goal of creating a more inclusive environment for everyone on our campus. In recent weeks I have also heard directly from many members of our community, including from our students, about the racial climate on our campus and the challenges they have faced personally. Their testimony has been powerful and deeply moving, and their ideas and recommendations on how to counter racism on campus and improve the overall racial climate are also informing our next steps.

In the prior message, I announced the formation of a new Community Board on Public Safety; we have been working on its membership and incorporating community feedback, and we will send an update soon. I also stated that this would be the first in a series of initiatives to focus on the critical issue of racial justice. Today, I want to let you know about some of the other steps we will be taking. Because we are looking at these issues as broadly as possible, some of our plans can begin right away, whereas others will take time to develop and implement. Many seek to address all forms of racial inequity. Others are focused more specifically on anti-Black racism, impelled by the urgency of this moment.

Changing our culture

My recent conversations with members of our community about the racial climate on campus and their experiences have convinced me that hearing the diverse stories of our community members is absolutely essential if we are to create a more inclusive, welcoming climate at Stanford.

To that end, I believe it is vital that every department, school and unit, between now and the end of the calendar year, hold listening sessions with their communities. The purpose of these sessions will be to hear stories that students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds want to share about their experiences at Stanford related to the racial climate on campus and to seek recommendations on how to improve the climate of each unit. University Human Resources will be available to help facilitate these conversations. In addition, representatives from my office and the Provost’s Office, including the provost, will meet in small groups this year with every Black staff member at Stanford who wishes to engage in conversation, as this segment of our community has been too often overlooked in institutional change initiatives.

Stanford scholars and social scientists have been among the leaders in documenting bias, both explicit and implicit, in our society – in the workplace, in hiring, in classrooms – and in identifying and validating means to counter them. We are committed to providing anti-bias training that draws on that expertise for all members of our community. I have asked the provost to work with the deans to develop data-driven training for faculty, which will include elements such as how to create an inclusive classroom, how to have difficult conversations and how to improve advising at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

The provost is also working with the offices of VPUE, VPGE and VPSA to develop such training for all our students, and, as soon as it is available, including it in the orientation experience of incoming students. In addition, I have asked leaders in University Human Resources to accelerate initiatives they have spearheaded under IDEAL to provide anti-bias training to all staff, including the senior leadership of the university, and to provide development programs for all staff of color to advance in their careers and in leadership positions.

Academic programs and research

Stanford is home to exemplary researchers and educators who are deeply committed to studying racial inequities and enabling our students to learn about racism and the corrosive effects of racial bias. As a premier institution of higher learning, we must dedicate even more of our academic and institutional resources to help overcome these forces. Three new initiatives will support this goal:

Provostial IDEAL Fellows Program: This is an ambitious plan to support the work of early-career researchers, who will lead the next generation of scholarship in race and ethnicity and whose work will point the way forward for reshaping race relations in America. We will recruit cohorts of four to five recent PhD recipients who are among the most promising young scholars in their respective disciplines for three-year fellowships. They will be selected by Stanford faculty from across the university who are leaders in the study of the impacts of race in America. The provost will initiate the recruitment process for these fellows immediately.

Impacts of Race in America: Faculty Cluster Hire: The provost will provide 10 funded billets for 10 new faculty hires, including at least half at the junior faculty level. We will be looking for eminent scholars and researchers who are leaders in the study of the impact of race in America. Two search teams will be appointed. One will focus on searching in the humanities and social sciences, including the traditional disciplines in the School of Humanities and Sciences as well as the related fields of law, business, education and policy. The other team will focus specifically on the impact of race in STEM fields, such as medicine, engineering and environmental justice. The searches will be university wide, including all seven schools as well as the Institutes in the Office of the Dean of Research.

The Center for Racial Justice at Stanford Law School: This new center will engage law students and the broader student community through public programs, conferences, workshops and SLS policy labs. In partnership with nonprofit and business leaders, legislators and other government officials, the center will produce research papers and policy proposals to address pressing societal problems and injustices. The center will also conduct and disseminate research that, in the best tradition of legal scholarship, is rigorous and policy relevant. An array of pipeline programs designed to diversify the legal profession and leadership roles in American society is also planned. SLS leaders have already begun the process to establish the center this summer.

Enhanced support for existing programs 

Stanford is committed to educating a diverse student body and we are already host to a number of vibrant programs that help support a pipeline of diverse students and scholars at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels. In addition, Stanford’s Centers for Equity, Community and Leadership, play an essential role in supporting this diverse community of future leaders. We believe it is critical to increase the university’s investment in these programs and centers and highlight their importance for fundraising opportunities.

Further diversifying our faculty, including increasing the number of faculty of color, has been and remains one of our highest priorities. The provost and deans will continue to work with all departments to assist them in their recruitment efforts, including by increasing resources available for this purpose through the Faculty Incentive Fund.

The subject of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute has been raised by many in our community in recent weeks. I want to assure all of you that Stanford is fully invested in the Institute’s future success, including our commitment to continue its long-term efforts to assemble, edit and publish the King papers. This fall, we will reinvigorate the search for a new center director to succeed longtime Director Clayborne Carson, who is retiring. Under the leadership of the new director, a thorough study will be undertaken to create a strategy for the Institute as well as opportunities for deeper engagement with the entire Stanford community. I expect the strategy to include recommendations on the Institute’s physical location on campus and additional necessary resources.

In conjunction with the development of a strategy for the King Institute, I have asked the Provost and the Dean of H&S to initiate a University-wide self-study to determine the most effective structure for supporting studies of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford. This study will be initiated once the new King Institute director is in place and will include consideration of the future status of African and African American Studies, and whether the research and educational missions of the university would be better served with departments rather than the current structure of interdisciplinary programs.

Holding ourselves accountable

As we make changes and implement new initiatives, it’s critical that we hold ourselves accountable by measuring the effectiveness of our efforts.

We commit to conducting regular surveys to assess the racial climate at Stanford, with students, postdocs, faculty and staff assessed separately. The provost, along with VPSA and HR, will be looking at the best models available for conducting these surveys and including the community in their development. The Office of Institutional Research and Decision Support will continue to update the IDEAL dashboards with aggregated data. And the Office of Faculty Development, Diversity and Engagement will continue to publish its annual reports of faculty demographics to help monitor and support our progress.

In addition, responding to the urgency of this moment, we will be forming a Black Community Council to engage Black alumni with students, staff and faculty for oversight of initiatives focused on supporting our Black community. This council will be in place a minimum of three years and will be a critical part of ensuring that we are appropriately measuring the outcomes of our actions and initiatives.

Next steps

The actions and initiatives I’ve outlined in this letter are just a starting point. Eliminating racial injustice on our campus, and helping eradicate it in our society, will require a rigorous, comprehensive and sustained effort. It will take the commitment of Stanford as an institution, starting with myself, the provost and our senior leadership, including all vice presidents, vice provosts and deans. But it will also require the dedication of every member of our community. As we listen and learn from the members of our community about their experiences and hear more of their thoughts on how we can best move forward, we are committed to embracing ideas for producing concrete, long-lasting change. We have much to learn and much work ahead of us, but I am confident Stanford can be a force for real and positive change.

The work we are embarking on will take time, but we need to tackle it with urgency. I will update you on our plans and progress regularly, including over the summer and into the fall.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne