Heirs of the past, stewards of the future. This was Trinity University’s campaign as it commemorated its 150 year history. Now midway through the institution’s 151st year, this phrase still rings true, taking on new meaning as the University addresses the realities of structural inequities, systemic racism, and a global pandemic.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police brutality, Trinity, like many other institutions of higher learning, reached a tipping point.
“As a University that strives to be a tight-knit community where we value intentional inclusion, it became necessary that we act,” says Trinity President Danny Anderson. “Our first inclination is to implement tactics and, while it is meaningful to plan events and begin dialogue immediately, we must also be intentional to examine and address the systemic inequities that are firmly rooted in our daily lives and enshrined in our operating practices.”
In June, Anderson created a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force with the charge to produce a report by the end of August that provides actionable recommendations to generate fundamental, sustained change in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This core group of individuals–representative of faculty and staff–were selected specifically because they carry with them a variety of lenses and perspectives.
Alongside the Task Force, an advisory group composed of students (the Brain Trust) and faculty and staff (the Subject Matter Experts) was formed to provide insight and feedback to the Task Force as recommendations are developed. The individuals on both the Task Force and advisory group are committed to creating sustained, fundamental change.
“The role of this Task Force is to focus on systemic inequities, not to plan events and programs. And, part of our progress thus far includes a vision planning exercise–asking ourselves how we envision Trinity in the next 5 to 15 years. Using this vision, we will work backward to engineer strategies to bring this vision into reality,” says Deneese Jones, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force co-chair and Vice President for Academic Affairs
To produce thorough recommendations, the Task Force is divided into two subgroups and assigned specific goals, one of which is to review and develop recommendations from the proposal brought forward by the Trinity Diversity Connection, Black Student Union, and African Student Association. The Task Force is also working with an external consultant. Led by Dr. J Otis Smith, Stand by Systems II conducted more than 130 interviews with faculty, staff, students, and recent graduates to gather campus climate data and help guide the Task Force in their work. Combined with input from Black alumni, student organizations, and the results from the Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey (administered by the Diversity and Inclusion Office and Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness), the Task Force has a robust set of voices who will help guide their recommendations.
“As we work to move step-by-step toward a more inclusive future where all students, faculty, and staff feel welcomed and valued, we will stumble,” says Wilson Terrell Jr., Diversity and Inclusion Task Force co-chair and Associate Professor of Engineering Sciences. “This is healthy and necessary. We must keep listening, learning, and living into our commitment to systemic change.”
As a collective, the Task Force is on track to meet its Aug. 21 milestone, by producing recommendations that will set the framework for future work and action. This report will be presented to President Anderson.
“Our 150 years of history will not be changed overnight with simplistic silver bullets,” Jones says. “We must reflect and acknowledge our past while owning the responsibility of marching toward an inclusive future. It is up to our entire community to lean into this important work around diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Trinity will continue to face both familiar and unprecedented challenges. And, true to its roots, we will act with resilience, humility, and community as we become stewards of this future we envision.