Building Blocks of Transformation

Carol E. Henderson | Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion | Chief Diversity Officer | Adviser to the President

I begin by expressing a profound sense of gratitude.

The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) is honored to be a resolute agent for change and to champion the work of deepening a sense of belonging and advancing equity at Emory.

The title of this letter serves to remind us, myself included, that transformation comes with hard work, planning, and iterative progress. Each step brings our ultimate goals closer, even if it does not seem so in the moment.

As Marian Wright Edelman advises, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.”

I want to start with steps we already have taken, in which we should feel the pride of work done well and collaboratively in fulfilling Emory’s mission “to create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.”

‘Heeding’ Our Progress

The university was named a 2022 recipient of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award (HEED), a national honor recognizing colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. The selection process ultimately singles out only those institutions where—in the words of Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT into Diversity—“diversity and inclusion are woven into the work being done every day across their campus.”

I commend the News Center article on the HEED Award (see link above) to your attention; the list of the impactful ways we have built diversity and inclusion is too long to detail here. However, the effect is unmistakable: we are creating a culture in which we welcome one another in compassionate human terms for who we are and what we wish to contribute.

In January 2022, Emory’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Planning Report was submitted to President Gregory L. Fenves and Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda. Our roadmap consists of three focus areas: Climate and Culture, Professional Development and Education Awareness, and Accountability. During March, we welcomed community input. This spring, we will formalize our institutional DEI strategic goals and engage the community in next steps to realize these aims.

By envisioning student flourishing in a multidimensional fashion, Emory’s initiative is preparing students to thrive as citizens in a truly global world. They will have the intercultural competency to engage communities across time zones, geographies, identities, and experiences with an eye toward rebuilding a fractured world.

The expansion of the Emory Advantage program has more than doubled the number of undergraduates on pace to take on limited, if any, debt. That’s a game-changing way to counter the negative impact debt has had, including on generational wealth.

The Indigenous Language Path Working Group and the Twin Memorials Working Group—groups under the auspices of the president—made significant strides.

Last spring, Twin Memorials held 18 community-engagement sessions attracting more than 225 participants, and this past fall the group gathered the community again to receive feedback on design concepts. A request-for-proposal process now will identify an architect to develop a design for, and lead, the construction of the memorials.

In an event sponsored by the Indigenous Language Path Working Group, the community was the beneficiary of a remarkable teach-in by our Muscogee Nation partners. With the recent announcement of a $2.4 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, Emory will engage in a unique partnership with the College of the Muscogee Nation, developing programs advancing Native and Indigenous studies and the preservation of the Mvskoke language.

In December, the provost’s office announced faculty-research grants for projects contributing to the eradication of social inequities. It’s fitting that Emory elevates research by scholars who attend to humanity’s most persistent challenges.

New Avenues as the Journey Continues

Joining Emory is Chandra L. Ford, a leading scholar in the fields of racism, social justice, and public health. Ford will hold dual appointments in the Department of African American Studies (AAS) of Emory College of Arts and Sciences as well as the Department of Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences at Rollins School of Public Health. As AAS looks forward to launching a new PhD program in fall 2023, Ford’s expertise will be critical in training students to understand the impacts of racism. 

Through the DiversityEdu platform, Emory currently offers courses on communication for inclusion, engagement with diversity, and the influence of unconscious bias. The diversity and inclusion education-and-outreach web page will go live this month. In addition, a new DEI competency will be added to Emory’s performance management system this year. 

Partnering with the Office of Institutional Research and Decision Support, this spring ODEI will present the results of our Race and Equity campuswide survey. This was Emory’s first involvement in the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates—engagement that we will continue. When the survey results are in, we will discuss the common themes and interventions recommended to strengthen our efforts around belonging and affirmation, equity, and fairness.

ODEI’s new Inclusion Project Initiative will seek out thought leaders who can offer education around issues that create barriers to a more inclusive Emory; connect our understanding of issues to action as we provide participatory engagement and impactful outreach; and provide alliance-building opportunities with campus and civic partners invested in inclusive change.

We are using the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation framework established by the American Association of Colleges and Universities to ensure that we are systematically erasing barriers to equal treatment and opportunity at Emory.

A search is currently narrowing for Emory’s inaugural director of the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Center Initiative. This role was created to join the national conversation in higher education about truth and reconciliation as Emory grapples with its own legacy and charts a path forward to restorative engagement and justice.

No Limits to What We Can Achieve Together

What a season of hope we find ourselves in.

As a university, we are—as never before—singularly equipped to address some of society’s most pressing justice issues: among them, health, economic, social, and environmental.

On this campus, we are resolved to create space for those previously unseen and overlooked. Most important, the way we see has changed. We view the common good as ‘good’ only when it is truly inclusive, not selective.

The members of ODEI and the countless committed partners across campus make this promise: to focus on building a stronger Emory community irrespective of any challenges that come.

Challenges are our opportunity to elevate and educate.