Update on Diversity and Inclusion Efforts at Wake Forest

Dear Wake Forest community,

In June, I shared the final report of the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community with you. That report outlined 20 recommendations and offered historical and contextual information. It also introduced the RIDE Framework, which grounds our institution-wide inclusion and equity goals and encompasses more than a dozen organizations and departments across campus. Additionally, the report shared our plans to operationalize the Commission’s recommendations; we anticipate sharing our approach to those efforts next month.

Today, I want to share with you new and developing initiatives as well as a range of resources and programs devoted to enhancing our campus climate. The following actions fit into three categories: expanding equitable student experiences; sustaining a more welcoming campus climate; and enhancing community engagement. I will offer a brief overview here, but I invite you to visit our Community in Progress website where you can learn more about the details of each category and action item.

Expanding Equitable Student Experiences
We have made progress in renewing diversity and inclusion goals for admissions and financial aid support. Expanding diversity exposes our students to broader and more complex experiences and viewpoints in every facet of campus life and enriches the educational pursuits and living community for all. This fall’s first-year class demonstrates important gains among Pell and first generation college students, while representation among domestic students of color has also increased from 21% to 24%. We aspire to continue increasing the representation of domestic students of color in our first-year classes, and we believe we can accomplish this goal through a combination of proactive recruitment, partnership with community-based organizations and an investment in need-based financial aid.

We have also implemented additional diversity, equity and inclusion educational opportunities. This year marks the first time that all undergraduate students were expected to complete an educational module on diversity, equity and inclusion prior to the first day of classes. Building an inclusive community starts with awareness, which leads to understanding and a shared commitment among all who make up our community.

We also have started the development of the African American Studies program, undertaken a concentrated effort to enhance educational opportunities through affordability and access to resources through the Affordability Working Group, and launched the Center for Research, Engagement and Collaboration in African American Life (RECAAL). I invite you to read about the progress of these initiatives on our Community in Progress website.

Under the leadership of Dean Jane Aiken, Wake Forest School of Law has been actively raising the levels of racial sensitivity and awareness among its community. Over the summer, faculty expertise at the law school contributed to national and international media coverage on issues of policing, police accountability and prosecutors. The school of law continues to help address the significant eviction problem in Winston-Salem’s Black community through its clinical programs and partnerships. Most recently, the school has convened a group of its faculty experts to carefully examine the issue of police violence that results in death and injury among members of the Black community, which will result in a series of practical courses aimed at providing legal education to the various stakeholder groups and members of the community involved in or interested in this important issue.

Sustaining a More Welcoming Campus Climate
This summer, we created the Advisory Committee on Naming charged with reviewing proposed principles for renaming or contextualizing buildings, roadways and other structures or honorifics, like named faculty chairs, on Wake Forest’s Reynolda Campus. The advisory committee, co-chaired by Trustee Donna Boswell and Dean of the Divinity School and of Wait Chapel Jonathan L. Walton, will review key guidelines for any proposed changes and designate research subcommittees to examine existing materials and further research specific individuals. The committee will then make advisory recommendations to the President and the University Trustees for removing or contextualizing names, as well as suggest other names as appropriate.

We also have worked to help address bias and equity in the hiring process. Wake Forest’s human resources colleagues, in collaboration with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, have developed a suite of inclusive hiring best practices and tools. Additionally the Professional Development Center has updated educational opportunities on inclusive hiring and retention. As of fall 2020, all hiring managers for permanent position vacancies — both academic and administrative — must review the information listed on the HR website, and each search committee chair and committee member must participate in a virtual PDC educational opportunity on inclusive hiring. More details will be forthcoming.

Enhancing Community Engagement
In the spring of 2019, Wake Forest partnered with local organizations like Truist Bank, private community organizations and foundations, and private individuals including residents and stakeholders in the nearby Boston-Thurmond neighborhood to establish the Boston-Thurmond Community Network (BTCN) and its board of directors. In October 2019, the board hired its first permanent executive director, Regina Hall, to serve as the “community quarterback” to coordinate revitalization efforts using the Purpose Built Communities model. As part of the BTCN, Wake Forest has offered support during the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to be involved in neighborhood programs such as K-12 tutoring, expanding broadband access during remote learning, and establishing boys’ and girls’ after-school activity clubs. Read more about the BTCN and Wake Forest’s engagement with our neighbors here.

In collaboration with local business leaders and philanthropic partners, Wake Forest University is part of a community effort to raise $1 million for Black-owned businesses, providing seed funds and venture capital to Black business owners and entrepreneurs. The funds will be distributed over the next five years, at $200,000 per year. Even as the details of the program continue to be worked out, this entrepreneurial initiative will provide recipients of the funds with mentorship and lay the foundation for sustaining the growth of Black-owned businesses throughout our community.

Over the last three years, our campus has hosted the Wake Forest University Freedom School. The Freedom School model, established by the Children’s Defense Fund, engages children from lower economic backgrounds in academic activities during summer months. Wake Forest’s Freedom School — under the leadership of Dr. Dani Parker Moore — is supported by a mix of University and grant funds.

As a community of students, scholars, colleagues, neighbors and alumni, we understand that moving together toward equity and inclusion is a shared responsibility. I am grateful to the many who have devoted time and careful thought to our steps forward, and I hope you will all join us in the work to come.

To lead in this regard is not easy, nor is it a temporary focus. As Mary Church Terrell shared, we “lift while we climb.” I believe that what we have accomplished so far to increase a sense of belonging on campus is neither a beginning nor an end, but rather a continuation of past efforts toward a better future. There is more to come and there is more work to be done. Thank you for being part of the effort.


Nathan O. Hatch

Categories: Letters