Emory Leadership Response to Student Concerns

Dec. 4, 2015

Note: This is a modified version of the original letter to Black student leaders on December 2 in response to their demands concerning issues of particular importance to Black students. The purpose of this modified message is to inform the larger Emory community and emphasize that the development of the university’s responses to the demands is and will continue to be a collaborative process that engages leadership and organizations in both Academic Affairs and Campus Life, as well as Black and other student leadership.

The issues raised in the demands are not new. Although Emory has made incremental progress, our desire moving forward is to address systemic issues and change institutional culture. Students are often the drivers of change, but it is not fair for students to assume all responsibility for change. While partnerships are important, we issue this letter to signify the beginning of a change process – a process that we believe must be ongoing, vigilant in our awareness of social injustices, and both concrete and actionable. 

Dear Emory Community:

We thank our Black student leaders for advancing planning and action to address the serious concerns presented in their student demands document. They are initiating the kind of dialogue that is essential to cultivating a more socially just campus community. We firmly support their commitment to progress and look forward to meeting with them to fully address their community concerns.

This letter is written in the spirit of providing an immediate response to very complex and important matters. We acknowledge that there is much work to be done. A number of the issues raised and the associated work will require meetings and further discussions for understanding, agreement, and action plans. These dialogues are being planned in an expedited way and began with a meeting on December 2 during which student leaders and members of our administration developed an agenda to address concerns articulated in the demands with relevant Academic Affairs and Campus Life administrators at a retreat scheduled for January 22. Some immediate responses in the areas listed below serve as a foundation for the planning discussions going forward.

We wish to emphasize three points at the start. First, some concerns and responses below overlap and some may apply to more than one area of concern. Second, none of our responses below are intended to be final. Third, academic policy is determined by faculty governance structures within each of our nine schools. As mentioned above, we look forward to further examining with Black student leadership how we can work together to address the concerns outlined in their demands. As previously mentioned, although many of the demands will be addressed during a retreat scheduled on January 22, several of the systemic issues articulated in the demands will be addressed through mutually agreed upon and/or existing structures.

Demands 1 and 2: Bias Incident Reporting

The Bias Incident Reporting program is a relatively new system that was initiated in fall 2013 to provide a platform to share our community values and expectations, establish a reporting structure for students to document bias incidents, and form a team of staff members trained to respond to bias incidents.

We will review with our Black student leaders the challenges and successes of this system and implement changes to better support the needs of the community. Their input and that of other students is essential.

Demand 3: Counseling and Psychological Services

The demands raise the issue of resources available to Black students through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Recognizing that mental health is an important part of student success, last spring we created a new executive-level position to lead the CAPS office. This senior staff member represents mental health concerns on Emory Campus Life’s Executive Leadership Team and participates directly in Emory Campus Life strategic policy formation.

The CAPS staff is fully committed to examining how we can best address the concerns expressed regarding support for Black students. Currently, half of the CAPS staff are people of color and 43 percent of the clients served last year were students of color, including 13 percent who identified as Black or African American. We are committed to broadening our approaches for engaging with students, providing a safe space for Black students, and creating partnerships to connect with students from marginalized groups who may feel hesitant to come to CAPS. 

Demand 4:  Faculty Evaluations

Emory University, like most universities with multiple undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, does not have a unified course evaluation form. The course evaluation information is used for the annual evaluation of each faculty member as well as included in the dossier for each faculty member considered for tenure and/or promotion. Modifications to the course evaluation form are a core component of faculty governance in each school/college.

Each academic Dean will be asked to establish a process in the school/college to review and revise current course evaluations (e.g., add the recommended open-ended questions), as well as make other revisions identified as part of the review. Next, these revised course evaluations will be shared through existing mechanisms such as the Council of Deans, the University Senate, and the ongoing assessments on student learning.

As the 2015 fall semester is coming to an end, this work will begin in the 2016 spring semester with the intent to use the revised course evaluation from the spring and to consider the outcomes in the 2015-2016 annual faculty evaluations. The Office of Planning and Budgeting will collect information on the faculty annual evaluations as part of the annual reporting requirement for each school, specifically the nature and number of negative actions regarding faculty members.

Demand 5: Academic Support

Enhancing academic support will require ongoing collaboration between Campus Life and the schools/colleges. We look forward to working with Black and other student leadership to generate ideas on how to expand and strengthen existing programs, several of which are described below, as well as identify new programmatic opportunities.

Academic advising and mentoring are essential to the success of all our students, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Despite significant advances in academic support, there is a need for further investments to ensure that students from historically marginalized groups, including Black students, receive the kind and level of support that will yield success at Emory and beyond. 

Similar to the structure for revising course evaluations, each academic Dean will be asked to establish a structure in the school/college to review student academic support via engagement of students, faculty, and staff and grounded in the school/college governance structure. The Deans will be expected to work with their respective constituency groups to implement improvements in a timely matter and to provide a progress report, including evaluations as appropriate, as part of the annual reporting structure.  Council of Deans meetings will allow for sharing and comparisons across schools/colleges.

Over the past 25 years, the Emory Campus Life Career Center has co-sponsored "Reality Is... " This networking event, specifically for Black students, is provided in collaboration with the Caucus of Emory Black Alumni (CEBA) and the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services (OMPS). The Career Center has also conducted workshops for the OMPS Multicultural Outreach and Resources at Emory (MORE) program the last two years. We look forward to exploring with Black student leaders the expansion of career support initiatives for Black students at Emory.

One of Campus Life’s organizational restructuring efforts this year that speaks to concerns expressed in the student demands is our creation of the new Office of Student Success Programs and Services. This initiative includes the 1915 Scholars Program, Emory Advantage, and The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, which collectively assist students with meeting academic, social, and financial challenges. This organizational change was created to increase program synergy, effectiveness, and efficiency by bringing several related initiatives under the same umbrella.

The Office of Student Success also encompasses the Student Intervention Services (SIS) Team working closely with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and Student Health Services (SHS) – which houses psychiatry and other campus offices – to create additional synergy among services as we work together to support students and help them achieve success. Because Student Success is a new department, it is especially important that we establish a student advisory board to determine future programming, especially as it relates to supporting Black students at Emory, and we welcome the participation of Black student leaders.

We also recognize the importance of mentoring programs that involve peer and staff/faculty/alumni initiatives. The Office of Multicultural Programs and Services (OMPS) currently facilitates several programs designed to provide mentoring and support for Black students. These programs – Men of Distinction at Emory (MODE), Multicultural Outreach and Resources at Emory (MORE), and Building Leaders and Cultivating Knowledge (BLACK) – support meaningful relationships and promote student success. However, we recognize that we have work to do to make our community even more supportive of Black students’ academic and social success. We look forward to working with Black student leadership and other student leaders to strategize next steps for programmatic support for our mentoring programs. We are committed to expanding programs and services to meet the needs of the community. 

Demand 6: Planning Diversity Initiatives

Black students and other students representing historically marginalized groups will be invited to participate in the planning process for Creating Emory and other Campus Life diversity training and initiatives. In addition, the Office of Equity and Inclusion will work with Campus Life to identify committees that currently do not have student representation.

We will also work with the Advisory Council on Community and Diversity (ACCD) to ensure that each Division is committed to inclusion as demonstrated in the annual reports to the ACCD. Conversations already are underway to expand reporting of the ACCD beyond the university administration to the University Senate, the governance body of the full university, representing students, faculty, and staff.

Demands 7, 8, and 10: Increase in Black Staff, Faculty, and Administrators 

Each year, the university’s Office of Equity and Inclusion prepares and maintains an Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) in accordance with federal regulations. The process of maintaining this plan allows us the opportunity to identify areas for growth and change. Annually, the plans are shared with key stakeholders at the university and monitored for improvements. Emory’s Affirmative Action Plan is more than a shelf document. Implementation of this plan serves as guiding principles for the community. This plan allows us to: 1) implement educational programs aimed at increasing diversity in our workplace; 2) conduct federally mandated workforce analyses; 3) develop affirmative action programs and best practices; 4) document best effort; 5) guide the work we do to engage self-analyses for the purpose of discovering barriers to equal employment opportunities; and 6) monitor our progress over extended periods of time.

As part of the school/college annual reporting, as well as of Emory’s Affirmative Action plan, we conduct an annual evaluation of the composition of our faculty. This includes benchmarking for underrepresented faculty, including Black faculty, based on national trends and the pipeline. The analyses include a comparison between the current and expected faculty composition by type of appointment and rank. When a school/college is below the targeting representation, the Dean of that unit is charged to rectify the situation. In addition, the review compares the faculty composition to the Emory goals for each school/college, and this is where we must continue to make progress, as the proposed goals are not being met in all schools/colleges or across disciplines. 

Two years ago, the Office of the Provost created a Faculty Diversity Fund to assist the deans to achieve faculty diversity goals as defined by discipline/area of focus with the understanding that progress is measured both in numbers and most importantly an improved culture for faculty diversity. The latter includes recognition of contributions to committee work and other institution-building activities.

Faculty recruitment and retention are a priority for all of academic affairs at Emory. Part of the January retreat will focus on developing a shared understanding of how dedicated recruitment and retention currently occur, how recruitment and retention can be enhanced, and how these actions will yield increased diversity.

To improve faculty retention and with an emphasis on faculty diversity, the Office of Equity and Inclusion within the Office of the Provost established, in partnership with one of the Senior Advisors to the Provost and a Faculty Advisory Committee, the Best Practices for Faculty Recruitment. Work is underway to establish Best Practices for Faculty Retention, also with an emphasis on faculty diversity.  Workshops on unconscious bias for faculty searches were initiated in fall 2015, and training to expand the number of faculty who can provide these workshops is underway. 

Although Emory Campus Life is a diverse organization, we are not satisfied with our current levels of staff diversity, professional development opportunities, and recruitment and retention strategies – all of which we are committed to improving.

Campus Life recently appointed a Senior Director/Senior Associate Dean of Learning and Innovation, who provides leadership, management, and direction to nurture professional development of Campus Life staff. Along with the Campus Life Human Resources Manager, the two departments lead learning and development efforts in a range of programs, including our ongoing commitment to recruitment at every level that supports a staff representing the broad diversity of our campus community. In partnership with Emory Human Resources, we will conduct a new comprehensive review of Campus Life staff compensation and recruitment and retention strategies for staff of color and other historically marginalized groups.

The Class and Labor Committee provided 62 recommendations on staff, and these have been addressed through an implementation committee that was part of the University Senate. The report on faculty from the Class and Labor Committee has been delayed but is expected to be ready in early 2016. Once received, recommendations also will be shared with the University Senate and other key constituency groups. The expectation is to establish a University Senate standing committee for implementation regarding Class and Labor recommendations for staff and faculty. 

Demand 9: Trials for Black Organizations

Campus Life’s Office of Student Conduct has two recent appointees as Director and Assistant Director. In collaboration with students, the staff members in the Office of Student Conduct will review our policies and protocols and develop recommendations to further enhance the entire system.

Demand 11: Geofence for Yik Yak

Through a partnership between Information Technology Services and the University Senate, a task force will be created to examine the feasibility of a geofence covering the zip codes for Emory University, including Oxford College.

Demand 12: Establishment of GED Program  

Emory Human Resources will recommend strategies to enhance the working conditions of DUC/Cox workers and explore the possibility of establishing GED course offerings for staff members.

Demand 13: General Education Requirement Addressing Issues Affecting People of Color

The General Education Requirement is offered in Emory College of Arts and Sciences and Oxford College. This demand will be further discussed at the upcoming retreat with the appropriate faculty governance representatives.

Conclusion

This document describes current areas of engagement that already address to some extent the concerns expressed in the Black student demands, as well as several initiatives scheduled for spring semester. We are committed to participating in a process that explores a full range of efforts now underway, as well as students’ ideas on how we might enhance existing programs and consider possible new initiatives where needed.

It is our hope that, following the January 22 retreat, a comprehensive document will be developed that identifies a timeline, action steps, and accountability measures for each demand. Meanwhile, Emory Campus Life staff members are partnering with student leaders to co-facilitate special programs to help students successfully complete the current semester.

The Wall of Love, which took place November 23, was led by students and supported by the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services (OMPS) as a space for healing in light of racist comments on social media. In addition, a program is scheduled to take place before finals to help students prepare for exams and engage in self-care. For spring semester, the Office of Health Promotion (OHP) is developing a Happiness Boot Camp for Black students as part of Flourish Emory.

We support what we understand to be the overarching goal of the demands document – to ensure that Emory’s Black students, like all our students, receive the support they need and deserve to succeed. Know also that we are committed to working with Black student leaders and our entire community to achieve that goal.

We look forward to further dialogue and collaborative planning on these issues in the very near future.

Sincerely,

Ajay Nair
Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life

Claire E. Sterk
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs