Stetson President Christopher Roellke will create a “very high-level President’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion” and will commit funding over the next three years to diversity and inclusion efforts at the university.
Roellke outlined several commitments Oct. 15 during an Open Forum on the 2020 Campus Climate Survey Report and amid unrest over racial injustice nationwide. The survey followed a similar one in 2016, providing a snapshot of the lived experiences of students, faculty and staff on the DeLand campus and at the College of Law.
Roellke said one of his goals when he became president on July 1 was to use the latest Campus Climate Survey to “identify resources and strategies that will advance Stetson’s efforts in diversity and inclusion.”
In some areas, Stetson improved beyond expectations in the past four years and in other areas, it has struggled.
“Despite considerable efforts over time to promote equity and inclusion, the data and associated narratives do point to differential experiences at Stetson based on a number of demographic characteristics, most notably race and gender and also employment category,” said Roellke, PhD, during the webinar.
“On this front, I do hope that you will continue to engage with me in the robust and sometimes challenging conversations we need to have moving forward,” he said.
Moderator Harry Price, PhD, associate professor of Chemistry and director of Biochemistry, received a wide range of questions for Roellke and the panel of faculty and staff during the hourlong webinar. They touched on topics like Stetson’s efforts to increase minority recruitment of students, the institution’s vision for diversity and inclusion, and the consequences for students who make racist statements to others.
Roellke also announced the formation of three working groups to address critical issues identified from the survey. The groups include the Stetson Culture committee (for all campuses); Inclusive and Transparent Communication (for all campuses); and the Relationship between Stetson and DeLand community (for the DeLand campus.)
The president will host another Campus Climate Open Forum on Thursday, Oct. 29, from 6-7 p.m. for Stetson students, faculty, staff and alumni. Register for the webinar here. Submit questions or comments for the forum through this online form.
To demonstrate his own personal commitment, Roellke listed a number of steps that he will take, such as devoting funding for diversity and inclusion initiatives led by students, faculty, staff or the community for at least the next three years.
In the first year, half of those funds will be dedicated to the student-life area – specifically for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion – and the other half for academics, such as teaching resources devoted to issues of inclusion and diversity.
“Today, I commit to creating a very high-level President’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion to promote engagement of prominent alumni and community members that reflect the diversity of Stetson’s student population,” Roellke said, indicating that he expected the council to begin work in January of 2021.
He also listed “a sample of the commitments” made by his senior administrators, sharing two or three of them from each administrator.
For example, Provost and Executive Vice President Noel Painter, PhD, has committed to promote dialogue that addresses any real or perceived divide between faculty and administration, and also between staff and administration.
Lua Hancock, vice president of Campus Life and Student Success, commits to using the presidential funds as seed money to hire a full-time coordinator of training and development within the office of Diversity and Inclusion, a new permanent position on her staff.
And Executive Vice President and CFO Bob Huth will commit to ensuring the search processes for staff positions includes outreach to generate a diverse pool of applicants.
In Roellke’s view, diversity and inclusion mean meeting the needs of each particular community on Stetson’s campuses, allowing them to feel safe, welcome, valued and empowered. Such a campus should “provide ample opportunities for multicultural exchange, all working toward the goal of engaged pluralism,” he said.
He compared diversity and inclusion to the collective effort of the Stetson community this year to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic.
“I do see race and inclusion in America and at Stetson very much like a public health and safety issue, and think much of the community may resonate with this perspective as well,” he said.