Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

Over the past several weeks, our community has experienced great pain, frustration and anger. The suffering many of our fellow Bucknellians have been experiencing for far too long is sharply in focus. And while the racist incident that occurred during a WVBU broadcast was not an isolated event, it has served as a catalyst for change. We have significant work to do to make Bucknell an inclusive home for all members of our community, but what has happened in the past two weeks gives me cause to believe that, together, we are beginning to move forward in real, tangible ways. I write today to provide a brief update on those efforts.

Immediately after the WVBU incident, I wanted to do, to talk and to lead. I've come to realize that the first step is to listen. I have had the opportunity to do just that in many very pointed one-on-one and small group conversations with students, faculty and staff. That includes a candid and productive meeting with a good number of our black faculty. Those conversations have helped inform new initiatives, including my commitment to fully funding additional faculty positions in Africana Studies, along with a postdoctoral position within the same program. The University will also devote new financial and other resources necessary to support our students’ well-being and improve the culture in our 24-hour living-learning environment. The scope of those resources is being defined, and will benefit from the many voices lending themselves to this conversation. We will report back on this at the beginning of the fall term.

Resources alone will not lead to meaningful, lasting change. We must continue to have open and honest dialogue around issues of racism and all forms of discrimination. With that in mind, there are several upcoming events that I want to highlight: 

  • On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 14, the faculty is participating in a special forum in which they will identify and plan specific ways in which they, collectively, can help improve the campus climate and reduce racism. This forum follows a faculty resolution in which, formally and collectively, our faculty strongly condemned racism and pledged to recommit themselves with “urgency to addressing the presence and manifestations of racism at Bucknell University.”
  • Also on April 14, the Bucknell Student Government is hosting a campus-wide solidarity ceremony in the evening, during which students, faculty and staff will come together to confront racism and discrimination in our community. BSG will soon share additional details regarding this very important event, but I urge you to make every effort to attend. 
  • On Wednesday, April 22, the President’s Diversity Council is hosting an open session for students, faculty and staff. The event will likely take place in Walls Lounge, from 1:30-4:00 p.m.
  • On June 3, the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble will visit Bucknell and hold two separate sessions aimed at stimulating discussion around diversity and inclusion. We will share more details on the events as the time nears. 

As you know, our Board of Trustees will meet on campus at the end of the month, as it does every spring. The Board has certain business that it must conduct to fulfill its fiduciary obligations, such as formally awarding degrees to our seniors, but it will devote considerable time during its private sessions to discussions regarding their responsibilities as trustees when it comes to this critically important issue. 

A primary objective of the Diversity Plan, which was promulgated by the President's Diversity Council last year, is to “improve the diversity of the faculty across all academic departments.” I am grateful for the opportunity to report that during this academic year we have so far experienced some success in this area across both Colleges. One exemplar lies within the humanities, in which we have completed searches for eight tenure-track faculty lines. Of those eight, five new faculty members come from underrepresented groups. In the College of Engineering, faculty from underrepresented backgrounds account for three of four new tenure-track hires. While this  reflects only one incomplete hiring cycle, it’s illustrative of what we can accomplish through highly intentional, dedicated work. After the faculty hiring cycle concludes, the Diversity Council will fully detail our progress in this area in its forthcoming annual report. 

We have also committed to improving our recruitment practices for staff positions across the University at all levels, including by expanding the scope of our search to geographic areas with increased diversity where we have not previously concentrated. We intend, for instance, to hold job fairs and other such events in cities such as Harrisburg where the populations are significantly more diverse than Union County. Given the traditional hiring cycle, we will have more information to report on these efforts in the fall.

The Diversity Plan also calls for a renewed emphasis on diversifying the makeup of our student body. We again can point to early indicators of progress in this area. More than 29 percent of the students admitted into the Class of 2019 are students of color, up from 21 percent in the Class of 2018. 

While our recent efforts focus most directly on racism, we must also confront broader issues of discrimination that exist here, evidenced by the disgusting voices of intolerance, hatred and violence recently directed toward others in our community — cowardly voices again hiding in the shadows of Yik Yak. As in the past, we have again explored our ability to get information from Yik Yak, but have thus far been thwarted in those attempts. Everyone in our community should forcefully and consistently speak out against this hate, and do whatever we can to support those who are targeted. Please do not be passive in these efforts.

I share this incomplete summary to signal that momentum toward change is building. These early steps on our institution's long road toward combating racism and other forms of discrimination must ultimately lead to an inclusive community for all Bucknellians. Through thoughtful and highly intentional action, we will bring about the change that so many of us seek — the change that the Bucknell community demands. 

My best,
John

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