Dear Members of the Brown Community,
Last week, each of us met with groups of students to discuss campus climate and how best to foster a more inclusive community. The students we met with were a subset of individuals active in advancing a deeper awareness and understanding of issues of race, ethnic and gender identities, and in combatting racism and discrimination while promoting social justice on campus and beyond. These students share a commitment to building a better world and a better Brown, for themselves, their peers, and future generations of Brown students.
Recent events at Brown and across the nation emphasize the ongoing need to address various structural issues and their consequences: unequal access to education, justice, housing, health care and economic opportunity. Our national discourse on these topics — even at its best — overly simplifies these matters in a way that thwarts progress. The debate is frequently framed as “diversity” versus “free speech.” But this framing polarizes us, puts us on the defensive, and prevents us from thinking creatively about how we can build inclusive and just communities that, at their core, also actively engage and debate diverse intellectual perspectives and positions. We believe that Brown can be such a community. Our goal in getting together with the different student groups was to explore with those who are very much on the front lines in this struggle actions we could take to make a difference, at the very least, on our campus, and more ambitiously, to set an example for others.
The students we met with shared their personal experiences both in and out of the classroom. They expressed deep appreciation for the many members of the community committed to their personal growth and academic success. They also communicated their profound frustration, disappointment and anger at the inadequate resources available for supporting the particular needs of our increasingly diverse student population. This includes things like the need for greater resources devoted to student support, as well as a demand for more thoughtful attention to faculty and staff diversity and the courses offered, content covered, pedagogical approaches and classroom discourse.
Their stories were moving, instructive and often painful for us to hear — as professors, parents, and university leaders. We acknowledge the deeply troubling fact that racism, sexism and a less-than-fully welcoming climate exist on our campus. This affects all of us, and the learning environment that we seek to create. How we engage and learn from one another and develop as a scholarly community shapes our contributions as a university. If entire segments of our community are or feel excluded, we undermine their development as well as our capacity to truly maximize and benefit from the enormous intellectual talent we have assembled. If some of our students refrain from expressing their opinions, for fear of unwittingly offending others, we all suffer as a result. Our openness, rigor, diversity of perspectives and continual renewal define our strength as a university.
To be sure, Brown has made some progress in these areas. We have been attracting a far more diverse undergraduate student body over the last decade, with more first generation students, students of color, and students from low-income families, as well as international students. Reaching this point required inspired and deliberate decisions: for Brown to achieve its ambitions as a leading university, educating global citizens prepared for 21st century challenges, requires attracting the most promising students to our campus. By adopting a need-blind policy, more than doubling the budget for financial aid and other deliberate measures, Brown has sought to be more diverse and inclusive, knowing that as a community we benefit from a rich array of talents and perspectives. Quite simply, a more diverse community makes us a stronger university.
Where we have fallen short, however, is fully supporting these students to ensure their personal and academic growth. Insufficient support limits not only their opportunities for full participation and success, but also prevents the broader community from benefitting fully from the ideas and perspectives these students offer. And, as is the tradition of Brown, these students, through their actions and activism, are calling attention to things worthy of both our attention and our action.
During our meetings, we committed to working together, and with members of the senior administration, faculty, undergraduate, graduate and medical students, alumni and others to cultivate a diverse, engaging, rigorous, challenging, supportive and inclusive community. We know that reconciling these different goals is both complex and challenging, but rising to this challenge is the path to strengthening academic excellence and to fostering community. We will build on good work already taking place and underway across campus, (e.g., our commitment to double the number of underrepresented minority faculty, the continuation of the Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows program, efforts to increase diversity among our graduate students, formation of the Alumni Diversity Caucus, etc.) and take the following actions, which will be elaborated on in the Diversity Action Plan that will be shared later this month:
1) Assess the campus climate: We are a data-driven community, and faculty and students have called for assessing the campus climate around issues of race, income and gender identity, and respect for intellectual diversity. Findings will inform future policies and programs.
2) Offer professional development opportunities: Brown’s student population has changed dramatically in recent years. The class of 2009 consisted of 29% students of color while the class of 2019 includes 40% students of color. Since 2008, the percentage of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants (federal need-based grants serving low income students) has increased 46%; and today, approximately 15% of our undergraduate students are the first in their families to attend college. As members of the faculty, we feel that we need support to learn about pedagogical approaches that will help us reach and become more accessible to this changing demographic. We suspect that we are not alone in perceiving this need and that other colleagues may also benefit from targeted professional development opportunities.
3) Maximize scholarly resources to drive discussion: Our offices will sponsor a series of lectures, workshops and panel discussions to welcome and engage a diversity of perspectives on these critical issues. We will take advantage of the significant resources we have on campus in our centers, institutes and departments, and supplement these perspectives with external expertise to ensure a full spectrum of thought and points of view.
4) Finally, and most importantly, we will support our students. We will support them in tangible ways, such as providing financial support for students in need to ensure they have access to the full Brown experience; guidance and advising to navigate the complexities of campus life; and a rich set of intellectual activities that will allow us to build the inclusive and intellectually challenging Brown community we all desire.
We are confident that working together and engaging the entire community we can make real progress.
Christina H. Paxson, President
Richard M. Locke, Provost