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From WPI Board of Trustees: Action Plans for Racial Justice Work at WPI

DEPARTMENT(S): 
June 22, 2020

Dear WPI Community,

President Leshin recently shared thoughts on the crucial issue of combating systemic racism in STEM and at WPI. She articulated our values and our commitment to stand strong with WPI students, faculty, staff, and alumni of color in the fight for racial justice—and she shared, and I agree, that together, as well as individually, we must act. I write today to share the Board’s commitment to both near-term plans and longer-term follow-up designed to advance our collective goals.

First, I want to acknowledge the many critical conversations taking place among members of our community that will continue to inform our work. A group of alumni has provided both stark and honest insights into their experiences with bias and racism on campus as well as thoughtful suggestions of positive actions we can take. Faculty, staff, and students, from both departments and research groups, have been meeting via Zoom, generating and sharing their thoughts and ideas. And last week I shared mine with members of the Board of Trustees—that letter is appended below.  

Going forward, we board members are charging ourselves, the president, and every member of the Management Council, Faculty Governance, and Student Government to work with their teams and their communities to create action plans built upon prior work through Project Inclusion and informed by the suggestions of students, alumni, and colleagues. 

The plans should contain several key components:

  • Reflection on and acknowledgement of institutionalized practices that have perpetuated marginalization
  • Demonstration of commitment and accountability for change through statements of support, deep listening to community members, and active learning plans
  • Creation of a strategy to drive cultural and structural change
  • A specific plan to dedicate the resources needed to execute the strateg

​These plans will be reviewed by a stakeholder council and integrated at the institutional level in early fall. We’ve asked that President Leshin share a unified longer-term plan of action with the Board and the community soon after. These inputs will form a critical part of WPI’s next strategic plan.

While these plans are being created, the Board and campus leadership will advance several near-term actions including but not limited to:

  • Listening circles with students, faculty, and staff of color
  • Launch of a bias reporting system
  • Anti-racism education and training for all community members
  • Launch of a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Student Council 
  • Launch of an Alumni of Color chapter
  • Learning and development with senior leadership on racism, power, and privilege
  • Creation of a Board Task Force on Racial Equity and Justice

These are not all of the actions we will take and we know it will take far more work, time, and a significant cultural shift at WPI to achieve the state of anti-racism we seek. As we launch a new phase of this important journey, it is important to honor the significant previous efforts on this campus to advance the cause of inclusion and racial justice. The professionals within the Division of Talent & Inclusion and the Office of Multicultural Affairs are immersed in leading this work daily—work that can go unrecognized and be underappreciated. Their strength and dedication in this moment, full of opportunity for change yet also exhausting and grief-filled for years of fight without enough progress and lives cut short by injustice, inspires me, and I hope inspires all of you. We all must lead here, we each must take responsibility, and we must work together for change. 

In closing, I want to acknowledge that there are undoubtedly people reading this letter who have experienced discrimination or racism at WPI. To those of you who have, I am sorry for what you experienced. I regret that we have not done more to acknowledge racism at WPI, and to eradicate it. 

As I said in my letter to the Board, “WPI can never be a truly great university while issues of systemic racism and discrimination of any kind take place in our community.” We must do better, and we will do better as long as we are willing to do hard work and change together.

Respectfully,
Jack Mollen, Chair
WPI Board of Trustee

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​​​​​​Letter from Jack Mollen to the Board of Trustees:

June 16, 2020
 
Dear WPI Board of Trustees,
 
With the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbey, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others—as well as some horrendous public displays of potentially dangerous instances of racial profiling—it has become apparent that the issue of systematic racism needs to be aggressively addressed in all organizations … including WPI.
 
We often talk about WPI being a safe place for learning; where people are valued for their ideas and judged only on their commitment and ability to change the world. But recently a large group of some of our most valued alumni told us that that they faced incidents of discrimination, bias, and fear while on campus. They challenged our assumptions about ourselves. And, although their experience was marred, these individuals shared their stories because they care deeply about WPI and they want to help the university live up to its ideals so that everyone can truly benefit. People of action, they have even composed lists of recommendations for our reference. We will share these documents with you so you can read their inputs for yourselves.

As complicated as this may seem, it boils down to this: Racism and inequality have no place in America, in our family upbringing, or in our hearts, and they certainly have no place at WPI. 

In order to move forward, first we must acknowledge that while clearly not our intention, WPI is part of the system that has perpetuated racism and inequities in our society. We must directly apologize for our history, and for the experiences that any students, faculty, staff, and alumni of color have had that are inconsistent with our values. Personally, I regret that we as a board have not done more to advance the cause of racial justice at WPI, and I believe that must change as we move forward. 
 
Over the past few years we’ve discussed inclusion as a priority, and we know that it delivers better organizational results, better ideas, better inventions, and a better world. We also know that WPI’s culture is not one that has always demonstrated respect for all members of our community equitably and inclusively. So we, both the Board of Trustees and WPI, still have significant work to do. We need to dive deeper, understand more, and help the WPI community to create concrete plans to move the institutional structures and culture forward in a more just way. The Board must hold ourselves accountable for our own structures, representation, and actions that diminish opportunities for WPI to benefit from greater contributions of people of color to our work. Then we must do our job of holding the university accountable to make the changes we all commit to. I have communicated to Laurie our intention to do just that, and she and her team are working hard to integrate thinking and they've suggested actions across the campus community into plans that they will share with us by September. 
 
WPI can never be a truly great university while issues of systemic racism and discrimination of any kind take place in our community. Our core purpose at WPI is to help all our students develop deep skills through Theory and Practice. Because of our community’s unique ability to bring all disciplines to bear on a subject, we are able to address some of the world's most difficult issues. With this in mind, I ask: What could be a more worthy endeavor than using our knowledge, skills, and hearts to find solutions to help eliminate the long-standing issue of racial injustice? Not only would it help our university and our students, but our world! 
 
This will be a key subject of each of our board meetings this year. We will learn and act together. Thanks in advance for your commitment to this just cause, and for all you do to advance WPI.    

Jack