A Plan for Now Update

March 4, 2021

Dear Tulane Community:

To become a truly great university – defined by breakthrough discovery, world-class scholarship and transformative personal growth and enrichment – Tulane must become a community that welcomes and supports a diverse array of students, faculty and staff. We must treat each member of our academic family, especially our BIPOC and other underrepresented members, with equity and respect. The past couple of weeks have underscored the need and urgency for us to build this type of community. Recent events have caused distress for many, prompting deep inquiry, discussion and introspection about racism, sexism and how we work, engage and interact with one another. Together, we must examine our systems and structures as well as our behaviors and biases to consider and understand their potential impact on our BIPOC and marginalized communities.

Racism, sexism and all forms of discriminatory behavior have no place at Tulane. Reports of all such incidents are taken very seriously and each that we receive has either been or will be thoroughly investigated and the responsible parties will be held accountable. While we cannot provide public updates, know that we are committed to addressing each incident, of which we are made aware, through our university processes. If you have experienced or witnessed such behavior, please report it to Tulane.edu/concerns.

Hearing Tulanians describe their experiences of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination is heartbreaking and has strengthened our resolve and affirmed the need to accelerate our progress. Today, I write to you to provide an update on our continued efforts to promote equity, diversity and inclusion and the initiatives through A Plan for Now, which drive our journey. While we have made — and continue to make — progress, we are aware of our shortcomings and know we have much more work to do.

Initiatives in Progress

We continue to be at a pivotal inflection point in our country and university. Last summer, I announced the EDI Funding Initiative, which will allocate $2.5 million annually to increase support for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives focused specifically on students. The funds, which will be allocated through a committee with broad representation, is now inviting applications. More recently, we launched the Louisiana Promise, a new initiative that will make a Tulane undergraduate degree more accessible and affordable for Louisiana residents from low- and middle-income families and increase access to higher education for all students in our city and state. We also launched the Leadership Institute, which hosts the Emerging Leaders Program and the Anti-Racism Leadership Program. The Leadership Institute helps identify and nurture future leaders and enhance the skills, insight and vision of current leaders.

Building Naming Task Force

Earlier this academic year, I created the Building Naming Task Force and charged the group with developing university-wide principles to guide Tulane’s decisions in naming or renaming campus buildings. The Task Force was further charged with using these new guidelines, consistent with legal requirements, to provide a recommendation to the Board of Tulane regarding Hébert Hall.

The Task Force – led by co-chairs Thomas LaVeist, dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and Weatherhead Presidential Chair in Health Equity; Ana Lopez, professor of communication and associate provost for faculty affairs; and Thomas Reese, executive director of the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Distinguished Chair in Latin American Studies – had a broad representation of students, faculty, staff, board members and alumni. This group has been working diligently during the past several months and recently submitted their final report.

Before the task force's recommendation is considered by the Board of Tulane, which is the ultimate decision-maker for building naming, the task force has recommended a period for public comment to allow all Tulanians to share their feedback and concerns regarding these principles. This period will provide opportunities for engagement and feedback from students, faculty and staff. The Task Force's report, information about community meetings and opportunities for feedback are now online for review.

Announcing the Tulane History Project

Our commitment to making Tulane a more inclusive and supportive home also includes examining Tulane's history – we must take an honest and unbiased look at our past. This is why I have charged a new committee to lead the Tulane History Project.

Led by co-chairs Sally Brown Richardson, A.D. Freeman Professor of Civil Law and vice dean for academic affairs, and Halima Leak Francis, professor of practice and public administration program director, this committee is charged with researching and developing a detailed history of Tulane and its campuses, with respect to its racial history and founding – including the impacts from segregation and slavery. This committee will work collaboratively with the Presidential Commission on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to ensure opportunities for community engagement.

We know that examining our history in a thoughtful and thorough way will take time. So, my first request to this committee will be to propose a timeline with clear deliverables in order to share updates and progress.

Presidential Commission on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Last fall, we announced the relaunching of the updated Commission and their focus on supporting the development of "A Plan for Now." The Commission leadership team has proposed the following subcommittees to continue advancing their charge:

Campus Climate Committee  
Review how the racial climate is assessed across campus in collaboration with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, with attention to intersectionality and building capacity for the EDI climate survey.

Student Engagement Committee  
Identify opportunities to increase undergraduate and graduate student awareness, knowledge and skills about racism and inclusion and their role in interrupting and reducing the harm of interpersonal and institutional racism.

Faculty Engagement Committee  
Review faculty anti-racism and EDI initiatives across campus and identify existing gaps and needs.

Staff Engagement Committee
Facilitate opportunities for staff to engage in anti-racism and EDI change work across programs and subcultures to foster a community of inclusion in support of university EDI initiatives.

Campus Events and Speaker Committee
Identify and recommend high-impact speakers and programming on anti-racism and EDI topics to advance the institution’s racial equity, diversity and inclusion efforts.

More information regarding the Commission committees and their upcoming meetings will be shared soon.

EDI climate survey

We will conduct a university-wide EDI climate survey in fall 2021. This community survey will provide objective data and metrics to assess our racial climate, identify areas where additional focus and improvement are needed, generate ideas, and measure our progress over time.

This project will be led by co-chairs Carolyn Barber-Pierre, assistant vice president for multicultural affairs; Mollye Demosthenidy, associate dean for strategic initiatives, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine; Kelly Grant, senior associate dean for retention and strategic initiatives, Newcomb-Tulane College; and Anneliese Singh, chief diversity officer and associate provost for diversity and faculty development.

While we would like to launch such a survey as soon as possible, planning for a successful climate survey takes some time in order to yield a strong response rate and ensure the survey items are reflective of EDI and anti-racism best practices. To prepare for the survey, in the coming months the project co-chairs will facilitate focus groups with various affinity groups on campus to identify best approaches to increase our response rates and to identify the most important areas of focus for the survey.

All of the initiatives mentioned above have the single, urgent goal of building and sustaining an anti-racist environment and a community where all are welcomed, supported and valued – these efforts are essential for creating a world-class institution that conducts the best research, offers the best education and has the greatest positive impact on the world.

Mike Fitts