Letter from Brown’s senior leaders: Update on actions to address racial injustice

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Tuesday, Sept. 1, Brown University's president, provost and executive vice president for finance and administration shared with the University community the following message about a series of actions that Brown is pursuing in its ongoing efforts to confront anti-Black racism.

An update on Brown’s actions to address racial injustice

Dear Members of the Brown Community,

As we prepare to embark on the start of an unprecedented academic year, we wanted to share with you an update to our June 15 letter in which we detailed a series of actions that Brown will pursue in our ongoing efforts to confront anti-Black racism. While only a little more than two months have passed since we first outlined our goals, it’s important that you know about the work that is already underway, as Brown’s success will be tied to the engagement of all students, faculty, staff and alumni working together toward a unified goal.

Brown has long sought to address the unjust impacts of systemic racism on campus and provide pathways to equity and access by contributing to education, research and service, and ensuring that all members of the Brown community are valued and respected. While we have made meaningful progress in some regards, it is clear that substantial work remains. That work will be among the University’s top priorities this year.

In this letter, we write to inform you of progress on plans for forming a Task Force on Anti-Black Racism; funding to advance understanding and Brown’s influence in meaningfully confronting issues facing Black communities; campus programming to engage the entire community in discussing issues of race in America; work in admission to address issues of representation in undergraduate enrollment; progress on efforts to support the Providence public schools; engaging campus in the Department of Public Safety Review; and a clerical adjustment to address a state government affiliation historically appended to the University’s name.

The crucial fight to do away with systemic racism requires our deep-rooted, long-term commitment. As we wrote in June, the obstacles to equity are not new, but the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others have brought about a renewed and justified focus to the realities people of color, and especially Black people, grapple with daily. Unfortunately, since we last wrote, we continue to confront additional painful injustices with the shooting of Jacob Blake and the resulting violence and unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and around the country. These events further reinforce the urgent need for our efforts.

Task Force on Anti-Black Racism

Addressing anti-Black racism requires thoughtful, intensive and perhaps, at times, uncomfortable discussion and action. As we announced in June, to facilitate this work, the President will appoint a Task Force on Anti-Black Racism, led by Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Shontay Delalue and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Andre C. Willis. Over the past few months, Vice President Delalue and Professor Willis have led a series of listening sessions for faculty of color and Black-identifying staff and students in order to develop a deeper understanding of lived experiences within the Brown community that will serve as the foundation for the work ahead. Those listening sessions reinforced that the community desires permanent solutions and substantive action that will solidify a culture of inclusion. The Task Force, whose membership will be announced early this fall, will consider how Brown can address these issues in ways that reflect the University’s mission of education, scholarship and service and will provide the President with a series of recommendations by spring 2021.

Funding for academic discourse and impact

One of the ways in which Brown has long sought to address the presence and impact of racism and bias is to convene scholars to influence discourse on campus and nationally to build understanding and explore problems and solutions. This work has often been led through excellent programming run by the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA) and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ), among other departments. Yet it remains clear that our national conversation on the root causes and impacts of racism is too infrequent. To further these goals, we are pleased to announce that Brown has established the Addressing Systemic Racism Fund to support further research and programming aimed at addressing anti-Black racism on and beyond the Brown campus.

This fund will be used to support research, scholarship and programming that will advance awareness, deepen understanding and effect policy change on issues affecting Black communities, including poverty, health disparities and violence. Proposals will be evaluated by a committee who will make their award recommendations to the Provost and the Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity.

Campus conversations

In addition, we are proud to announce the launch of a new virtual campus conversation series, Race & in America, which  will explore various facets of race in America. Led by CSREA in conjunction with the Provost’s office, this monthly interactive series will examine subject areas including slavery, public health, social movements and democracy. These venues will be open to the entire campus community to engage in meaningful conversation and build community on these critical issues. Additional information on the series will be forthcoming this week.

Shaping undergraduate recruitment

One of the important ways in which we can address systemic racism directly is to increase our own efforts to improve equity and access to an education at Brown. The Office of College Admission is developing a strategic initiative to intensify outreach and recruitment efforts with a focus on increasing enrollment among African American/Black undergraduate students. This step aligns with a recommendation from the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Board (DIOB) that Brown increase its focus on recruiting a more diverse undergraduate student body. This plan will be completed in time to shape the current admissions cycle.

Support for Providence public schools

Brown has a long-standing relationship with to the Providence Public School District, and has been deeply engaged with city and state educational leaders to find ways for the University to support efforts to improve the quality of teaching and learning. As many of you know, in July, the University announced the funding of the $10 million endowment of the Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence, enabling continuous improvement to teaching and learning in Providence. The Fund will support 21st century learning, including support for significant improvements to the Hope High School Library and Media Center. In addition, we are establishing a new oversight committee for the Fund, including campus and community stakeholders, that will ensure the fund is used to the full benefit of Providence students.

Expanded Public Safety review

In recent months, important debate about the role of policing in today’s society has continued across our nation. Brown University’s Department of Public Safety is currently undergoing a previously-scheduled external review led by Margolis Healy, a nationally-recognized campus safety and security consulting firm. Given the critical debate related to policing and the Black community, we have expanded this effort to include community engagement opportunities, including forums and surveys, which will occur once classes are underway. Additional information about these engagement opportunities will be announced in the coming weeks. Some changes will be made in advance of the completion of the review. For example, Residential Life is working to transition the responsibility of helping students who are locked out of their dorm rooms as well as wellness checks from DPS to Residential Life.

Removing the state designation from Brown’s official name

Finally, as you may or may not be aware, the official name of Brown since 1804 has been “Brown University in Providence in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” in reference to the state’s official name. The University’s official name is rarely used, but it appears in certain legal transactions. The word “plantation” did not carry connotations of slavery in 1636, when the colony of Providence Plantations was established by Roger Williams. Over time, however, the word has come to conjure painful reminders of one of the ugliest times in our nation’s history. This November, Rhode Island voters will be asked to consider officially changing the state’s name by ballot initiative. In the meantime, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and other elected officials have stopped using the full name. Similarly, in recognition of the painful past associated with the word “plantation,” the Brown University Corporation voted unanimously to change the University’s official name to be simply “Brown University,” which is how we refer to it now in nearly all uses.

We continue to hear from so many in our community about the pressing need for action, and we recognize that this effort will require our continued attention alongside of the current global health crisis. We look forward to keeping you updated on this important work. Even more, we hope you will become involved in these efforts over the coming year and into the future.

Sincerely,

Christina H. Paxson
President

Richard M. Locke
Provost

Barbara Chernow
Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration