Sept. 15, 2020
As we look to honestly and more fully address issues of systemic racism, prejudices, and privileges, and enter into a deeper dialogue around race, both in our society and at our University, I am inspired by meaningful expressions of solidarity and an openness to engage in these necessary and important conversations.
I was impressed by the number of students who gathered along Cuming Street last month to share their message that racial injustice and acts of racism should not, and will not, be tolerated.
Their initiative in coordinating this protest is a strong example of the University community’s commitment to justice in action. In talking with these bright, caring, and socially conscious students, I was encouraged by their thoughtfulness and eagerness to call out injustice, engage in constructive listening, and take steps to move forward.
In that light, I was equally impressed in recent listening sessions I have held with students of color on campus as well as with the leadership of the Creighton University African American Student Association (CUASA).
Our aim is to create a more intentionally inclusive and just environment across our University, and develop a culture that embraces anti-racism and addresses issues of systemic racism that are so woven into our nation’s historical fabric and continue to unjustly affect Black Americans today. Our students’ insights and perspectives, hopes and desires for a better future, and willingness to step forward into these important, and often difficult, conversations are welcome and heartening.
Tomorrow (Sept. 16), CUASA is sponsoring a “Die-In Demonstration for Black Lives.” Students, faculty, and staff are invited to sign up online to represent a victim of police brutality or racial violence and line the mall from Gallagher Hall toward Morrison Stadium. The event begins at 5 p.m., and will be followed by a march to Morrison Stadium, where members of the Creighton community will speak. CUASA has a long and significant history at Creighton, and this event looks to continue that tradition – spotlighting the systemic racism that Black Americans face on a daily basis and appealing for a more inclusive environment on campus.
This willingness to engage – to share and to listen – spreads beyond our student body. The Black Alumni President’s Advisory Board held its inaugural meeting earlier this month. The board is composed of Black alumni from across the country, from various professions, and is led by Creighton trustee and alumnus Frank Hayes, BSBA’75, founder of the Omaha accounting firm Hayes and Associates, LLC. In 1984, he became the first African American to serve on the Nebraska State Board of Accountancy, and his wide-reaching service to the Omaha community includes leadership roles with 100 Black Men of Omaha and the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, among others.
I am also announcing today the formation of a new President’s University Inclusive Excellence Council. That council will be composed of campus leaders, students, and faculty and staff representatives from each school, college, and division. I will be involved in the selection process for these representatives, along with the vice provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, and other campus leaders. We hope to have the council named and initial meetings held before the end of the semester.
The council will meet on a regular basis to engage in dialogue on issues related to diversity and inclusion across the University. Colleges, schools, and divisions will be asked to construct committees or councils within their ranks to assist their representatives to the University council, if they do not already have such a committee.
In addition, we have agreed to partner with Rankin and Associates, a nationally renowned university climate study firm, to conduct a comprehensive campus climate survey, focusing on issues of inclusion, equity, diversity, belonging, and welcoming across the University. It will include the voices of students, faculty, staff, administrators, and other stakeholders. The process will take close to 18 months, and will begin in January 2021, with initial meetings of a Climate Survey Committee. The overall goal is to provide a clear picture of areas of success, as well as areas of concern and need. We will use the results to determine action items and incorporate transparent accountability into the collective work that needs to occur.
In combination with the climate survey, the ongoing development of Creighton administrators, faculty, and staff in leading an inclusive campus is critical in achieving our goals. The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, Office of Title IX and Civil Rights Compliance, the Teaching and Learning Center, the Kingfisher Institute, the Division of Student Life, and Human Resources are leading an initiative to identify programs, lectures, events, workshops, retreats, and service opportunities that provide development in cultural competency. This initiative will provide greater visibility of offerings available on campus and create a platform for ongoing development of faculty and staff. Additionally, this group is reviewing options for implicit bias training for all Creighton employees.
Too, a new Bias Education and Support Team (BEST) will bring together representatives from the Office of Title IX and Civil Rights Compliance, the Creighton Intercultural Center, the Office for Community Standards and Wellbeing, Human Resources, and Institutional Diversity and Inclusion to provide a more holistic approach to addressing incidents of bias within our campus community. Efforts will focus on support for affected parties, accountability for individuals who have caused harm, and education for faculty, staff, and students. BEST will encourage the reporting of bias-related incidents through the University’s Tell Someone online reporting system. Please look for more information regarding BEST in the coming weeks.
Finally, I am also grateful for the ongoing and promising work of faculty, staff, and students who participated in the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Conference earlier this year. This group is establishing goals for the University with the mission of creating an inclusive environment that embraces anti-racism so that we might dismantle all forms of racism within our internal and external communities.
I look forward to sharing more on these significant efforts as we move forward. Creighton University, as a Jesuit, Catholic institution, is called to “do more” for racial justice and equality. Let us commit to do all in our powers – as individuals and as an institution – to live up to our loftiest ideals, to serve witness to the light of God in others, and to uplift all of humanity.
Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD