Speeches & Commentary

Racial equity

Dear Washington University community,

When I wrote to you last week, I promised I would come back this week with three things: 1) A plan for engagement within our university community, starting this month; 2) Concrete actions geared toward addressing systemic racism and its toll on our Black communities; and 3) A plan for how we will organize ourselves to partner more deeply with our St. Louis community.

I will address these items shortly, and please bear with the length of this message, but these topics merit a substantive response. First, I would like to again thank the many students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members who have contacted me to share serious concerns about our campus community and our role in St. Louis, as well as your ideas for how we can do better, and how we can demonstrate not just through what we say, but what we do, that we believe, unequivocally, that Black lives matter. The thoughtful work and list of demands from a coalition of Black students, the efforts of Student Union, and other collective messages that have been sent to our university leadership team and me, along with conversations we have had with students, faculty, and staff, have helped us place a critical lens on understanding the acute needs of our Black community, and identify paths forward for us to pursue racial equity collectively.

Our path forward includes challenges that we wholeheartedly embrace. To get this right in the long run requires time for thoughtful consultation and planning. The kind of enduring transformation that is called for and necessary here will require each of us to play a vital role, and it is critically important that we do this work together – establishing a clear vision of an equitable future, identifying the specific steps we need to take, and holding ourselves accountable to our commitments. We need to engage in deep dialogue and action planning, both within the university and in close partnership with the St. Louis community. To lay the foundation for the work ahead of us, I am committing to the following actions.

  • Create space for meaningful engagement and dialogue. Our first, immediate step will be to very intentionally create a centered space for our Black community and develop intentional spaces for our campus community to come together virtually this summer to engage in candid conversations on our action steps and engagement strategies that are community-informed. We are not asking you to figure out how to solve our problem; however, we do need to include your voice and your experiences to inform a lasting change process that will integrate your insight and ideas.

    Within the next week, we will share plans with our students for a Black Student Community Conversations with University Leadership series. This series will include time for university leaders, including myself, to engage in small group conversation with student leaders; a Designing Community Engagement Forum; and a student town hall, which I will facilitate. We will share details about these events, as well as opportunities to convene faculty and staff for similar dialogues, by email and on the Diversity and Inclusion website within the next week.

  • Establish an Equity and Inclusion Council. Our success will depend on collaboration across all parts of the university and among students, faculty, and staff. To help align priorities with resources, track progress, and guide this important work, we will create an Equity and Inclusion Council, comprising students, faculty, and staff. Establishing the council will provide a sustainable structure for prioritizing and implementing the important recommendations of our Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, which submitted its action plan in 2017. The council will serve as a convening body that creates and maintains collective and representative voice, alignment, and accountability for our institutional commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It also will monitor and provide annual reports on relevant metrics to provide accountability and transparency into the work and track our progress. The council will have representation from all schools and senior administration, as well as members-at-large. The council will submit its first report to the Board of Trustees in advance of the December board meeting.
  • Reimagine campus safety in partnership with our students. It is vitally important that all members of our university community, especially our Black students, faculty, staff, and visitors, feel safe and have access to appropriate resources to support their security and well-being. We commit to engaging in an open and transparent review process, inclusive of and in consultation with our Black student leaders, to study our approach to safety, and to ensure that we have the right structures in place to keep our community safe. It is imperative that the Washington University Police Department meets the highest standards of trust and accountability, and that it provides avenues for open communication and feedback. WUPD prioritizes community partnership and professionalism, and will be a crucial participant in this review process. We will begin engaging with our students to develop this process before the start of the fall semester.
  • Invest in our people and programs. Nothing is more important to us as a university than the people in our community. We must take this opportunity to redouble our efforts to ensure that we are supporting every individual who studies, teaches, or works on our campuses with the resources they need in order to succeed. We are especially called at this moment to focus our attention on our Black students, faculty, and staff, along with other underrepresented groups, to deepen our capacity for supporting their success. We will commit additional financial and human resources to recruiting and hiring a more diverse faculty, and to supporting the important work of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and Diversity; Center for Diversity and Inclusion; Academy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement; and other related initiatives and programs.

    In addition, the deans of each of our schools are developing school-based strategies to address racial equity. Our new provost Beverly Wendland will officially assume her role at the end of this month, and when she arrives, she will work closely with the deans on these plans, which will include significant opportunities for engagement with students, faculty, and staff, a strong emphasis on inclusive pedagogy, and our role in the St. Louis community. 

  • Recommit ourselves to diversity in hiring and contracting. In its 2017 report, the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion called for a renewed commitment to recruiting, hiring, and supporting diverse faculty through a variety of initiatives, including pipeline work, and that we similarly refocus our efforts to promote greater diversity and inclusion among our staff. While we have made progress, we can and must do more. Similarly, we also must reaffirm our commitment and expand our Supplier Diversity Initiative, which identifies viable opportunities at the university for qualified diverse enterprises and helps to sustain these companies over the long term. I am asking Executive Vice Chancellor Hank Webber, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Legail Chandler, and Vice Chancellor for Operations and Technology Transfer Dedric Carter to ensure that the university has implemented best practices with regard to equity and diversity in recruitment and professional development of our staff, and to develop a best-in-class minority contracting program. This work is to be done by the end of the 2020 calendar year. New policies and approaches will be shared with the St. Louis community, and metrics will be shared and published annually by the Equity and Inclusion Council. 
  • Build a world-class research program on race. We have a formidable faculty doing pioneering research on race, and we are aggressively building on this strength in numerous ways. We will continue to support our Department of African & African-American Studies, which has long been at the forefront of our research and learning on systemic racism against Black people. We have accelerated our launch of the university’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity from this fall to this summer, and look forward to the center’s announcement of The Colors of COVID-19 research initiative, as well as research working groups, grants, a working paper series, and connecting faculty working on race across the disciplines to collaborate and co-create.

    Further, I am announcing a Danforth Campus-wide cluster hire of 12 new faculty members doing world-class research on the many manifestations of race in our society, including disparities, the history and meaning of race, and how best to tackle structural racism. True to our mission, we will be translating our faculty’s work not only into the broader world, but right here on our campus, by creating new courses and opportunities for our students to learn, engage, and help design our new racial future.

  • Engage more deeply with St. Louis and strengthen our investment in regional efforts to combat racial inequities. St. Louis is home to exceptional organizations and individuals leading the fight against racial inequity. They are on the front lines of this vital work and we are committed to their success. As one step in more deeply engaging in St. Louis, we are making an initial contribution of $250,000 to the Racial Healing + Justice Fund, a community-designed fund that invests in the community based on guidance from residents who are directly affected by racial inequity. In addition, we commit to contributing a total of $100,000 over two years to Invest STL, an organization that seeks to support the equitable redevelopment of St. Louis neighborhoods that have experienced decades of systemic disinvestment. A particular focus of our support will be the neighborhood development north of Delmar Boulevard.

    We will also establish a task force this summer to help us shape our WashU Compact, a commitment between us and the greater St. Louis region as we look to strengthen our community partnerships and impact. This group will include members of our university community, as well as representatives from St. Louis community organizations. Our first step will be to engage in a deep listening and dialogue process with our campus and with our St. Louis community, to examine the ways we can become a stronger partner in St. Louis, and envision, together, what real collaboration can look like moving forward.

    We stand ready to make additional contributions – both financially and by working side by side – and know this will require strong, collaborative, enduring relationships. We are eager to move forward, but know we must take a deliberate and thoughtful approach if we are to achieve success together. This is what it means to be with St. Louis.

  • Reaffirm our support for causes that advance equity. While the actions above reflect steps we will take as an institution through our own resources, it’s important to acknowledge that we also have an opportunity – and responsibility – to take a stand on issues that are driving systemic structures on the local, state, and federal level. We have taken an institutional position in strong support of Medicaid expansion in Missouri, and believe that this is one of the most significant initiatives that will have a major, positive impact on the health and well-being of people in our region. No one should have to choose between health care and caring for themselves and their families. This has been brought into sharp and painful focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has illuminated the tremendous disparities in health outcomes for people of color, particularly in the Black community. Other causes that we must continue to keep in our sights are supporting a living wage for our regional workforce, including our own commitment to bring our minimum wage to $15 per hour for all regular employees and basic services contractors; and encouraging complete participation in the 2020 U.S. Census, which determines government funding for schools, hospitals, and other vital programs in the region. 

I want to reiterate that the steps outlined here are only the first in our long-term strategy to transform the way Washington University actively pursues racial equity, on our campuses and in St. Louis. And I am firmly committed to this process. We have already begun work on several of the items outlined above, and will continue to move them forward in the days and weeks ahead. Your feedback and participation are vitally important and I want to encourage each of you – students, faculty, and staff – to join the effort and participate to help us become the community, and the St. Louisans, that we aspire to be.


Andrew D. Martin