Update from Webster's Chief Diversity Officer: Support programs and investments to address inequities

Update from Webster's Chief Diversity Officer: Support programs and investments to address inequities

To the University Community,

These past few weeks have been stressful for many. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to still bring us much unwanted anxiety, the sudden death of beloved Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has left many wondering what the future of women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights will look like in future court cases, the ongoing Presidential election is weighing on many of our minds, and events across the country continue to highlight that the U.S. has made little progress in addressing how police respond to crimes involving unarmed Black people as opposed to unarmed white people.

Just three weeks ago, officials in Kentucky announced that no police officers would be charged directly for the death of Breonna Taylor. Instead, one officer was charged for shooting into an adjoining apartment during the event that killed Taylor while she slept in her own bed. And two weeks ago, it was announced that a police officer shot and killed a beloved city employee in Wolfe, Texas who was trying to break up a fight between two strangers in a convenience store. As is too often the case, Jonathan Price, the victim, was Black and unarmed. While all the facts have not been revealed, it appears police initially assumed Price was the instigator of the fight because of the color of his skin. In a rare occasion, the officer has since been arrested and charged with murder.

These are just a few of the many reasons why Webster University continues to invest in programs that address the inequities in this country. Last month, Webster announced that it had increased the number of Suggs Scholars by five-fold, from two partial tuition scholarships to 10 full tuition scholarships, so that more brilliant Black scholars have a chance at achieving a college degree. That’s more than $1 million in scholarships specifically for students of color!

The Webster Speaks series continues to gain national and international attention, including a recent episode that featured several current Suggs Scholars as they discussed what it is like to grow up in the era of “Black Lives Matter” as well as what they have experienced being Black students on a campus that is more than 50 percent white.

This month, Webster University has launched weekly disability awareness tips during Disability Awareness Month so the community can become more engaged and learn more about another minority group that frequently is not treated equitably. It also has started working with students and faculty committee to explore ways to enhance curriculum to reflect race-specific topics and discussions.

Other initiatives being pursued by Webster University that help students who identify as minorities include:

  • Established a tuition freeze for 2020-2021 academic year. (Fall 2019)
  • Launched the RISE program to support and retain Black and other students of color. Students in this program receive priority access to academic advising, mental health services, financial aid, tutoring. The program also hosts a “Webster Cutz” barbershop, weekly study sessions and monthly dinners with distinguished speakers. (Fall 2019)
  • Evaluated designated meeting space for diverse and multicultural students and groups. (Summer 2020) (Ongoing)
  • Created the St. Louis Community Scholarship Program. First-time, underserved college students residing either in North St. Louis County or the City of St. Louis will receive consideration for this scholarship. (Summer 2020)
  • Launched the Jackson-Thomas Leadership Giving Society to solicit donor gifts to financially support emerging and emergency financial needs of Black and other students of color. (Spring 2020)
  • Provided more than $20,000 in the experiential learning course in the Africana Studies trip to Accra, Ghana. (Fall 2019)
  • Launched The Connect, a mentorship program for interested AAAC Alum and current Black and other students of color. (Fall 2020)
  • Organized and hosted listening sessions with a group of current Black students to share experiences and offer guidance to Chancellor Stroble, President Schuster, Chief Diversity Officer, Dean of Students, Associate Dean of Students and Coordinator of MCISA. (Summer 2020)
  • Actively participated on City of Webster Groves’ newly formed Committee on Racial Equity. (Summer 2020)
  • Provided training and facilitate conversations on racial bias with the Office of Public Safety at Webster University. (Fall 2019 and Fall 2020)
  • Advised the City of Webster Groves’ Police Community Engagement Board. (Summer 2020)
  • Increased the number of BIPOC counselors and interns to provide better services for students of color. (Spring 2020)
  • Increased wellness sessions to allow more students of color to express their feelings and emotions about current events. (Fall 2020)
  • Created a community pipeline to certified Black counselors to give Black students within Webster more access to treatment. (Fall 2020)
  • Expanding MCISA student staff to better meet the needs of domestic and international students. (Fall 2020)

On a more personal level, Chancellor Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble, President Julian Z. Schuster, other colleagues and I have been meeting with students, both in leadership meetings and one-on-one in individual sessions, to hear student concerns about inclusion issues on campus, as well as to work with those students on upcoming initiatives and programs to make Webster University a more accepting and anti-racist institution. This work will continue for the foreseeable future.

We know this list is not complete. In the spirit of accountability, we are aware that there are initiatives being made in departments and schools that also speak to this shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. If you are in involved in such a project, please share that with me so that I can include it in future updates as well as help track its outcomes.

Please contact me if you have ideas or feedback on the University’s commitment to and work around diversity, equity and inclusion. I truly welcome the opportunity to listen and share.

Vincent C. Flewellen

Chief Diversity Officer

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