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Pioneers for Diversity Luncheon

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Rebecca Chopp

Speech  •

Good morning, and thank you all for being here and demonstrating your commitment to building a more inclusive DU community. This work is so important because we cannot achieve the excellence to which we aspire unless we have a diverse community of scholars where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Earlier this week, a student emailed me about an event called a “Night of Storytelling.” The email included video of several brave students sharing powerful stories of pain, discrimination, exclusion and inadequate support at DU. For those of us who have spent our careers and lives pushing for a more just and inclusive world, it is distressing that students, faculty and staff of color at DU and across the nation continue to face discrimination, along with women, individuals in the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and others.

This reality has become even clearer in the last several years—and more intently in the last several months—as students have led protests regarding the racial climate on campuses around the country: Yale, Princeton, University of Missouri, Occidental and Hamilton College, just to name a few. Nationally, conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement, legislation affecting the ability of trans* individuals to choose which restrooms they should use and issues affecting women’s rights demonstrate that these concerns are not limited just to college campuses.

And yet, in the face of this, I and we hope for and strive for a better future. We have made significant progress, and we are committed to building a stronger culture of inclusive excellence at the University of Denver.

Over the last several years, faculty, staff and students have worked successfully to achieve greater diversity and make DU a more inclusive and supportive environment. The Class of 2019 is one of the most diverse classes in our history, with 22 percent identifying as students of color, as well as one of the most academically distinguished. In 2005, that number was just 13 percent. This past fall, 30 percent of our new faculty hires were domestic persons of color. And we will continue to strive for greater compositional diversity as well as a more inclusive culture.

Thanks to the efforts of dedicated staff members, the new Office of Inclusive Excellence Student Success and Leadership Development opened this year in Driscoll Underground—so that it can serve as a central resource for students.

This move was supported by Dr. Liliana Rodriguez, who started this year as DU’s first Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive excellence, a position designed to ensure an inclusive community that supports all students.

Dr. Frank Tuitt became the first Senior Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost on Diversity and Inclusion this year. He oversees implementation of a variety of recommendations from the Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence; coordinates an external review on diversity; and, with Lili, has created the University-wide Chancellor’s Diversity and Equity Advisory Committee.

The Provost’s Academic Diversity Council serves in an advisory capacity on Inclusive Excellence and diversity matters that impact the academic experience at DU for faculty and students.

We are developing stronger education and training around diversity and inclusion and establishing more equitable policies, fairer practices and a robust system of accountability for our commitments.

Our students continue to inspire me. Take, for instance, doctoral student Jazmyne Peters and undergraduate Arriana Belkin, who took lead in organizing the University-wide Diversity Summit, entitled “Beyond Good Intentions: Confronting My Bias to Change our Community.” This was truly an institutional effort, drawing students, faculty and staff from departments across campus.

Our keynote speakers were Dr. Eddie Moore and Dr. Damon Williams. Damon also met separately for a session with senior leaders from across the University. The Summit included a range of workshops, including one on the intersection of race, gender, class and health outcomes, and a panel discussing the implications of the Black Lives Matter movement, moderated by Frank Tuitt.

Other speakers at DU this year include Yale Psychologist and expert in aversive racism John Dovidio, as well as Alma Clayton-Pedersen, who, among other accomplishments, established the national initiative on Inclusive Excellence. With both visits, these speakers gave public presentations and also talk time to meet with senior leadership to discuss inclusive leadership at an institutional level.

Just this month, the Native American Task Force submitted its report, complete with specific recommendations on how DU can honor its history. You may know that the University of Denver occupies land once inhabited by the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. And there is a controversial history regarding one of our early founders, John Evans, and his role with the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. One recommendation we are already acting upon is the hiring of a Tribal Liaison and Program Officer.

Our new strategic plan, DU IMPACT 2025, emphasizes inclusive excellence and the need to continue to advocate for and create positive change.

We aim not for a “Kumbaya” community, but rather a community where the sometimes uncomfortable act of true learning can occur. Students learn and grow when they encounter and engage with people of differing backgrounds and perspectives. Our job is to create spaces for that type of engagement—and to ensure equitable and fair access for all perspectives, including those that have been historically under-represented.

We are committed to greater outreach to the broader community, partnering especially with under-served populations in the Denver region.

I would love to hear your vision for what an inclusive DU should look like in 2025. What are the student, faculty and staff initiatives that would get us there? How do we know when it is clear that Inclusive Excellence is a key value of the institution and all its community members?

Thank you to all of you for your shared commitment to social justice and to building a more inclusive University of Denver.

Now, I have the pleasure to introduce Dr. Liliana Rodriguez. As I said, she is the University’s first vice chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence.

Lili served most recently as the associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and community development at Swarthmore College, where she implemented the college’s diversity and inclusion plan; merged student activities and residential life into a larger, holistic Office of Student Engagement; and revamped the first-year orientation experience to focus on college values and shared responsibilities as community citizens.

Lili shares DU’s passion for ensuring that higher education remains accessible to all students, regardless of financial circumstances. She understands that in order for students to be successful in the 21st century, they need to develop intercultural competence and the ability to understand, engage and appreciate others’ perspectives and experiences.

Lili is leading DU's efforts to redesign the student experience for undergraduates, graduates and professional students in light of the needs and opportunities of the 21stcentury. Already, she is bridging some of the artificial divides that have inhibited our work. She is working with staff and faculty to bridge the in-classroom and out-of-classroom learning experiences. She is bringing together staff from different departments and units to work toward common goals. And, in all of this, she brings a wicked intelligence, a true desire to understand people and a knack for learning and teaching in almost all situations she encounters.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Rodriguez…