For most of our students, 9/11 and the 2008 recession are vague memories, thus the historical significance of the times in which we are living is novel and perhaps, at times, overwhelming. Yet, what a rare educational moment this is for our young adults. For all of us. We are navigating a global pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes. Across the country and world, millions have taken to the streets to protest acts of brutality and systemic racism. And families across the country are struggling in the face of the challenges presented by profound economic instability.
In spite of these unique and formidable challenges, in fact often because of them, I have seen at DU bravery, kindness, attentiveness, resiliency and, most important, a resolute commitment to action.
Our faculty members have proved themselves agile by adapting their curricula for entirely new methods of teaching. Our students have proved themselves flexible by forgoing, at least temporarily, the college experience they’d always imagined. Our staff members have proved themselves extraordinarily focused, building plans for every contingency so that we can all remain safe and healthy.
I feel confident asserting that DU has met this uniquely challenging time with its best and boldest. I will not say that this is our finest hour, because I know our finest hour is yet to come. But the past five months will surely rank highly among times when the character of the University has shined brilliantly. I am deeply proud of us.
We will soon re-open campus for the fall quarter. And it will not look like any other fall quarter in DU’s history. Our classes will be smaller. Our desks farther apart. Our excited faces, masked. But I am optimistic that if we do this well, and if we all do our part, we will find in this time yet another reason to be grateful to be here, on this beautiful campus, learning, working and serving the public good together.
As for my part, the best thing I can do as chancellor is to execute the action items that will help this institution continue to be excellent — and strive to be even greater. At this singular moment in history, in addition to battling the spread of COVID-19, I am compelled to reaffirm this institution’s commitment to equity.
In this work, our students are an inspiration. They simply will not take “not now” or “it’s too difficult, too complex, too entrenched” for an answer. As we commit to equity, we must acknowledge two coexisting truths: We have worked hard; we need to work harder. I have spoken at length with the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community at DU, and there is clearly suffering from a lack of sufficient representation to generate the kind of environmental and cultural changes that must take place.
To start, we will question our policies. Are they creating inequities, even unintentionally? We will interrogate our practices. Are we serving our BIPOC community members as best as we can? We will look inward. Where have we been blind to injustice and inequity at this institution? These are difficult questions demanding difficult conversations. But, just as it is essential to physically distance and wear a face mask to protect lives, it is also necessary to do the work that can improve lives.
We must use this incredible historic moment to take a leap where before we took baby steps. We began with acknowledging Juneteenth as a campus-wide holiday for reflection and action. We continue by listening seriously to our BIPOC colleagues, friends and peers and by proactively educating ourselves on the challenges they face. And above all, we must move from mere words into action. I will be sharing an action planning document before summer is out and welcome your responses and suggestions as we continue this vital work to live up to the ideal of OneDU.