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UNL releases plan for addressing institutional racism, improving diversity
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UNL releases plan for addressing institutional racism, improving diversity

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The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will provide regular anti-racist teaching seminars, review its current hiring processes in the context of race and collaborate with Lincoln police to prevent poor treatment of minority community members off campus.

Those were a handful of the many action steps announced Wednesday morning as part of a detailed roadmap to foster a campus atmosphere that emphasizes anti-racism and inclusion.

In a campus-wide email outlining a series of initiatives dubbed a “Commitment to Action,” Chancellor Ronnie Green and Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Marco Barker detailed five overarching themes addressing racism and racial inequity. According to a document, those themes incorporate many goals the university hopes to reach spanning from almost immediately to a year or longer.

The commitment, they wrote, is part of UNL's Journey for Anti-Racism and Racial Equity and is based on feedback heard from people and groups including student leaders and student organizations. It’s also tied into the university’s N2025 Strategic Plan launched in February 2020.

Green and Barker noted the journey, which is being co-led by six UNL scholars, began following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a former Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.

Floyd's death inspired a summer of protest and led many institutions to re-examine their practices and roles in racial disparities in the U.S.

“Last year, the murder of George Floyd and the deaths of many other people of color indicated a need for organizations to focus on understanding racism and on long-term, meaningful change toward greater racial equity,” Green and Barker wrote. “We announced our journey at that time, with its initial steps of learning and listening and then, with a diversity of input, to thoughtfully act.”

The goals touch on a wide range of topics including athletics, curriculum and the university’s infrastructure and systems.

“We are committed to fostering an environment where we better recruit, retain, and support the success of students, faculty and staff who identify as Black, Indigenous, and persons of color,” Green and Barker wrote. “This is not a one and done plan. We recognize that too often in the past, eloquent words have been spoken or great plans announced — to far too little result. As we said last year, now must be different.”

On the athletics side, one long-term goal calls for implementing broader recruitment practices among administrators, head coaches, psychologists and mid-level staff who come from underrepresented groups.

Some of UNL’s curriculum-focused goals include regularly providing anti-racist and inclusive teaching seminars that examine racial bias in the classroom and course materials.

Another curriculum goal outlines reviewing course evaluations for potential bias-driven discrepancies among female instructors, instructors of color, instructors who are socially marginalized in other ways and all instructors who teach courses that mandate serious engagement with diversity.

At the institutional level, the university plans to implement measures to encourage communication between students, faculty and law enforcement. Those include a plan to hold recurring open dialogues discussing important topics related to racial climate and inclusion with updates from the campus police department.

The university has also established a review board composed of faculty, staff, students and community members to examine complaints of police misconduct involving students on campus.

UNL is undertaking an initiative to strengthen collaboration with Lincoln law enforcement in an effort to prevent poor treatment of those from minority backgrounds and who are associated with the university.

In the wake of Floyd's death in 2020, protests erupted around the country, including in Lincoln, where some demonstrators clashed with law enforcement. Protesters and police officers were injured during the course of several nights of protest. On one night, vandals broke into office buildings on the Lincoln Mall near the Capitol.

After the protests, faculty members from UNL's African and African American Studies program called on UNL to reevaluate its relationship with local law enforcement, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

UNL's outward looking actions are not limited to law enforcement. Via its Supplier Diversity program, the university intends to promote minority-owned businesses.

The university emphasized its intent to acknowledge COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on underserved and minority communities. UNL officials will be cognizant of those communities in their practices and policies relating to the pandemic, according to the document.

As the action plan unfolds, Green and Barker wrote that they encourage students and others to hold university leaders accountable.

“For nearly 153 years, the University of Nebraska has been working to provide access to exceptional higher education, and to spark research and creativity activity that enriches our university, our community, and our state,” they wrote. “The Commitment to Action is part of that overall effort; one we are absolutely committed to continue and one for which we know you will continue to hold us accountable."

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