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Since arriving at Wake Forest, I have heard the community’s call for us to better promote an inclusive learning and working environment for all who wish to make our campus their academic and professional home. Similar calls to address diversity, equity and inclusion challenges are happening on university campuses across the country and throughout society. For Wake Forest, a critical question facing us is: How do we ensure continued, thoughtful progress?

As leaders in higher education, I view this work as essential to our broader commitment of preparing our students for the world they will enter and the realities that await them — a world that is dependent on future generations laying bare divisive, complex and intersectional problems in search of solutions.

Great universities provide an environment — perhaps found nowhere else — that has the express purpose of fostering critical thinking, deepening an understanding of humanity and core values. In this special setting, each individual can further learn how to disagree without vitriol, listen to arguments and shape reasoned opinions, and respect and appreciate perspectives and experiences different from their own. This is the truest meaning of a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

As an academic community — faculty, staff and students together — we have the opportunity to see our individual differences as an advantage instead of a threat or something to fear. These opportunities in turn enable each member of our community to discover how they can contribute to society by cultivating their skills and talents. For our staff and faculty, part of this work is teaching, part is role modeling, and part is knowledge creation to give insight into challenging issues we face. For me, a critical part of this work is setting the standards for how we recognize our own opportunities for growth and ensuring all join in the work that is demanded of us as global citizens. This is accountability.

As I shared in my August 10 letter, I have carefully reviewed the work which so many Wake Forest committees and groups have contributed to in service of our diversity and inclusion goals, and I appreciate their thoughtful analysis. We have recently launched multiple next steps through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and across university departments and units. As noted in my reflections on recent campus and community events, we must be fully dedicated to fostering a more inclusive campus.

I ask now that together we take a further step forward in doing the hard work that is needed to advance our collective progress on campus. We must hold ourselves accountable in our ongoing efforts to make Wake Forest a more inclusive community. As president, I commit to doing everything I can to support this work. Therefore, I have created the University Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council (UDEIC). This standing council will be advisory to me and charged with supporting Wake Forest’s continual and ongoing commitment to each member of our community. The UDEIC will assess and provide input on the University’s progress toward fostering and sustaining inclusivity and belonging. The UDEIC will also be positioned to advise me on emerging situations and to serve as an essential conduit for the campus community.

This year, the UDEIC will be co-chaired by José Villalba, vice president for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, and Tracey L. Banks, faculty senate vice president and associate professor of legal research and writing. The UDEIC’s membership will include students, staff, faculty and alumni from across the Wake Forest community as well as a representative from the Board of Trustees. Each member will represent a broad range of voices and experiences and embrace our focus on radical collaboration. Positions will have one- or two-year rotating terms to allow continual representation and broad-based opportunities for service and engagement. When the full membership for the inaugural council is confirmed, an Inside Wake Forest newsletter announcement will be shared with the community.

I see the UDEIC as a critical element in how we keep our efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion moving forward. At the same time, every one of us has a role to play in embracing and championing the work ahead through individual actions and leadership.

We must treat one another with respect and care; we must hold each other accountable; and we must continue to uphold our commitment to the betterment of humanity at Wake Forest. Our society is counting on us to prepare leaders with integrity and to find solutions to help us navigate the complex challenges that lay ahead. I know that together we can do just that.

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