Next Steps on Equity and Racial Justice

July 20, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

The University of Colorado Denver is about student success. It is about opportunity. It is about community. I am delighted to be here among this vibrant community of students, faculty, and staff. We are committed to advancing our academic mission and preparing our students for an ever-changing world. I have much to learn and many people to meet, but in the early days of serving as your chancellor, I have been thoroughly impressed with CU Denver. In my introductory message on July 1, I told you I would spend the first 10 days of my tenure listening to you on the topics of equity and racial justice. This initial priority was inspired by the many who have been moved to action by the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and other Black people.

Demographic data of listening sessions (as described in paragraph above).I met with 172 students, faculty, and staff in 20 listening sessions over 10 days. I also received 25 emails sharing insights. The voices of those who participated shaped my perspective on the path we need to travel together to create a more just and equitable sense of belonging at CU Denver. 

In these sessions I heard about the history of the land on which our campus sits and the pain caused to the communities who preceded us here, both the original occupants—the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho—and the Latinx communities that were relocated to create our campus. 

I heard many different experiences, concerns, and suggestions. They include personal stories of students who have been reluctant to speak up on issues of equity for fear of retaliation, as well as the burden of the additional workload faculty and staff of color take on without title or pay. You can read a summary of what I heard. In short, you asked that we do more. A lot more. 

So today I write with commitments for action. 

Actions We Will Take in the Next Two Months

  1. I will relaunch a national search for the next vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion by mid-August. Currently the role reports to the provost and supports both CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. However, after discussing with Chancellor Elliman and Provost Nairn how we can best drive meaningful change and accomplish ambitious goals on both campuses, we have concluded that each campus needs focused leadership on this issue. At CU Denver the position will report directly to the chancellor and will have equity added to the title: Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
  2. I will appoint a part-time faculty fellow in the chancellor’s office to advise me and my leadership team on issues of concern to underrepresented students, faculty, and staff, and work on projects that support this effort. We will put out a campuswide request for nominations, and we will fill the position by the end of the summer.
  3. My cabinet and I will work with the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) to develop an advisory committee for the tri-institutional police department to examine its relationships, practices, and policies. Committee members will represent a diverse cross section of voices on our campus.
  4. We (vice chancellors, deans, and I) will take mandatory training related to equity and racial justice by the start of the fall semester.

Commitments for the Coming Year

  1. Working with the provost, deans, and vice chancellors, we will create a strategy for diversifying the composition of our faculty and staff. The strategy will include a timeline, goals, metrics, and a plan for investment. It will follow best and promising practices, and we will hold ourselves accountable for our progress. We will ask every school, college, and division to create an equity, diversity, and inclusion plan over the coming academic year, in alignment with the campus strategy.
  2. Having heard many concerns about how searches are conducted, who serves on search committees, and how interim appointments are handled, it is clear that these issues will need to be fully evaluated and considered, as some are driven by broader CU policies. I am committed to providing greater transparency at all levels. To begin this process, I will require national searches for the three open vice chancellor/vice provost positions (DEI, Student Success, and University Communications) and search committee training on issues of diversity and equity. I will make public the names of search committee members.
  3. We recognize that we can do more in our campus communications to highlight and amplify the voices of our underrepresented students, faculty, and staff, as well as those whose research, teaching, creative work, and community engagement support equity and social and racial justice. I will charge our new vice chancellor for communications with implementing this approach to ensure we adopt meaningful change. As a community, we will avoid calling on our underrepresented faculty and staff to carry the burden to speak on diversity and equity. I will also find ways to recognize those at CU Denver who have been taking on this work without compensation or formal title.
  4. We will continue our work to achieve the designation of “Hispanic Serving Institution” in 2021. This will enable associated grant funding that will leverage philanthropy to accelerate improvements in our ability to serve the needs of our diverse student body.
  5. We will continue the Teach-Ins to engage our faculty, staff, and students in listening, learning, and creating a greater shared understanding and common language as CU Denver tackles social justice issues as a community.
  6. We—our campus, schools and colleges, and our tri-institutional library—will invite leading authorities on diversity, equity, and inclusion to campus to educate and help us better understand our culture and how we can effectively approach DEI issues.
  7. We will host additional listening sessions in spring 2021 for our campus community to provide advice, guidance, and expertise directly to the chancellor and other members of the leadership team. These sessions will continue to serve as avenues for faculty, staff, and students to share their experiences and ideas to make CU Denver safe and welcoming for all.
  8. We will ask Faculty Assembly to develop a plan for expanding inclusive pedagogy and curriculum and communicating with faculty about resources for diversifying their syllabi. We will also ask them to work with administrative units with needed data and expertise to look into the effects of the ACT/SAT test-optional admissions policy, with an eye toward developing policies that ensure we welcome those potentially disadvantaged by requiring these measures.

Equity Task Force to Build on Listening Sessions

The equity listening sessions raised a host of issues requiring significant analysis and further work, which should become the basis of a DEI strategic plan. I plan to charge a Chancellor’s Equity Task Force for the 2020–2021 academic year to address equity issues, with particular focus on student success, academic issues and curriculum, and policy review. I will appoint members (students, faculty, and staff) in wide consultation across campus and in partnership with shared governance groups. Staffed with dedicated project managers to minimize the work placed on task force members, the committee will review the summarized feedback received in the equity listening sessions, consider the rich information provided by people within our community, and take on the following tasks: 

  • Identify proven practices that will advance equity and create a culture of belonging among our students. 
  • Identify ways to support our students holistically, including equitable access to student aid, access to food and personal hygiene products, technology support, mental health, and other critical needs.
  • Identify proven practices to improve student success and decrease disparities in retention and graduation rates by students in underrepresented groups and those with a precarious socioeconomic status. 
  • Establish a way to measure our progress toward a goal of equitable student outcomes. 
  • Review institutional policies and procedures with a focus on Human Resources practices to identify structural barriers to the recruitment, hiring, onboarding, supervision, and promotion of underrepresented categories of faculty and staff.
  • Identify ways to retain underrepresented faculty and staff.
  • Consider how we might integrate into faculty and staff performance evaluations a demonstrated commitment to DEI work.
  • Review membership of current campuswide and school or college advisory boards to ensure diversity and recommend opportunities for enhanced representation.
  • Identify ways to create opportunities on campus and in online settings for students, faculty, and staff to discuss challenging issues.
  • Design and implement DEI training and development for faculty, students, and staff that may include implicit bias, social and racial justice, cross-cultural training, and engaging and facilitating challenging conversations in campus life, classrooms, and the workplace.
  • Explore how we can acknowledge those who called the area now occupied by the campus home long before there was a campus.

These changes and the associated investments align with the important CU strategic planning efforts underway relative to diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. They are also a starting point for the transformative change needed to create a more equitable culture of belonging and become a leader in higher education in this work. As a public urban research university and the University of Colorado’s most diverse campus, we have a particular responsibility in this area.

While I know that I am ultimately accountable for the results of this work, we cannot make progress on it in silos. Our vice chancellors, deans, and governance leaders have unanimously concurred with the actions set forth in this message. I invite you to join us in this important work, to act and truly make a difference—together.

Michelle Marks

PS: If you were unable to attend an equity listening session but would still like to provide feedback, please complete our feedback form.

Chancellor’s Office

CU Denver

Lawrence Street Center

1380 Lawrence Street

Suite 1400

Denver, CO 80204


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