Response to Black Alumni Petition

July 10, 2020

Dear Furman Community,

We recognize and acknowledge the horrific and painful stories and calls for anti-racism in this petition, the Black@Furman Instagram account, and the many other communications we have received over the past few weeks from our Black students, faculty, staff and alumni. We hear you and we agree with you. We need to do more and take action now.

Our answers to the petition requests numbered below represent a starting point for future efforts. These efforts will build on and inform the foundational work of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice and the ongoing efforts of our university-wide Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Many of our responses here are admittedly general, given the brief time frame that we’ve had to consider them. However, we felt that it was imperative for us to initiate a process similar to the one that produced the meaningful actions recommended by the Task Force on Slavery and Justice in the Seeking Abraham report.

We recognize that the petition we received does not represent the full spectrum of Black voices in Furman’s community. In an effort to be transparent and inclusive we understand there is a need to hear from more voices. With that in mind, we are forming a working group of Black alumni, students, faculty and staff to guide us in a review of our current practices and to thoughtfully plan the specifics of the actions outlined below. Dr. Idella Glenn ’84 has graciously agreed to provide support throughout this process and to co-chair the committee with Dr. Michael Jennings, Chief Diversity Officer and co-signer of this letter. We are working to invite the members and have the group in place within the next two weeks, with an expectation that we can start work on their recommendations early in the fall semester.

1. Consistent with Justice in Educational Practices, Recommendation 2 of the Seeking Abraham report, we urge the university to hire an independent evaluator to audit and investigate campus culture and racial equity practices. This study should also evaluate how the university promotes racial equity in its operations, fiscal management and administrative activity, including how it recruits prospective students/students of color, disparities in the number of staff and faculty of color, and whether there are disparities in wages/salaries between staff of color and their counterparts, student discipline by race, and inclusive sourcing, including procurement for university services across departments with businesses owned by small and local businesses of color. This report must be made publicly available by Fall of 2021.

We agree that an evaluation of our practices related to diversity and inclusion is important to lay the groundwork for identifying and implementing appropriate actions that will become part of our Strategic Diversity Plan that is currently under development. The university will commit to a campus-wide study or similar assessment during the 2020-2021 academic year to evaluate our campus climate and culture and to help guide our future efforts. This study will be conducted by an independent outside entity and the results will be made publicly available.

2. To investigate Furman’s sordid history with chattel slavery and the slave trade, is a position of privilege but to explore this history without recompense for the Black students and communities impacted as a result is abject failure. For Furman’s role in the subjugation of Black bodies, families, and communities, we urge Furman to establish an African American student initiative designed to diversify recruitment and increase enrollment and retention of Black students within the institution. This would include target goals to increase the percentage of Black students enrolled from under-resourced communities, increasing total enrollment of African American students to at least 12% of the total student population. We also request that Furman increase programming to promote cultural awareness and provide safe spaces across campus, as well as supportive services for African American students to aid in their retention. While Furman has had faculty and student to student mentor programs in the past, we offer ourselves as partners in a new mentorship initiative to connect Black students with Black alumni for support as they matriculate through college.

We agree that exploring Furman’s historical ties to slavery is important and we are proud to be advancing the initiatives that have come from that effort. We also believe that working to specifically recruit and retain Black students is a goal that we must continue to emphasize. Following the recommendations of the Seeking Abraham report, we have committed to increase the Joseph Vaughn Scholarship to $1 million annually to further support Black students from under-resourced communities in South Carolina. We also commit to expanding institutional resources in financial aid and to support our overall diversity efforts. In addition, we will pursue or enhance the following:

  • Increasing programming to promote cultural awareness
  • Providing safe spaces on our campus
  • Supporting services that aid in the retention of Black students
  • Connecting Black students with Black alumni and other members of the Furman community in meaningful ways that support their matriculation to Furman and beyond
  • Developing a strategy to increase enrollment of Black students that builds on existing efforts while adding new initiatives

3. Consistent with Justice in the Community Recommendation 3 of the Seeking Abraham report, we urge Furman to strengthen its commitment to hiring more African American faculty and staff. We would ask that ALL Departments use applicant and staff diversity as a consideration in the hiring process with a goal to increase the number of Black faculty to 12%, commensurate with the student enrollment goal. We would also request that Furman commit to establishing a goal to increase the number of tenured Black faculty, and that they be provided leadership opportunities within the university. Furthermore, we would request that the African American and Diaspora Cultures Interdisciplinary Minor be instituted as a full major degree offering.

We agree that having a diverse and inclusive faculty and staff is an important part of implementing The Furman Advantage. Specifically, we recognize the importance of hiring and supporting Black faculty and staff at Furman. In order to achieve this, we must have diverse applicant pools for our faculty and staff positions and we must have strong support for our Black faculty and staff. We also believe that the Interdisciplinary Minor in African American Diaspora Cultures should be supported in its growth as it moves toward consideration by the faculty for becoming a major. To achieve these goals, Furman agrees to pursue or enhance:

  • Working with academic departments, institutes, centers and programs to achieve more diverse applicant pools for faculty searches
  • Working with Human Resources to achieve more diverse applicant pools for staff searches
  • Supporting the efforts of the Black Faculty & Staff Association to advocate for the increased recruitment, advancement and retention of Black faculty and staff members
  • Developing a mentoring program to support Black faculty and staff members
  • Providing professional development opportunities that speak specifically to the issues and concerns of Black faculty and staff members
  • Continuing ongoing work to further develop the Interdisciplinary Minor in African American Diaspora Cultures

4. Since Black students have endured decades of explicit and implicit racism on campus, we urge Furman to re-establish, staff and adequately resource the Dr. Idella Glenn Multicultural Affairs Center, separate from the Center for Inclusive Communities. This is to honor the service for Furman alumna Dr. Idella Glenn who gave graciously to Furman’s Black students and led the former Multicultural Affairs office for over two decades. This effort also satisfies a complaint of both current and past students to create a physical safe space for Black students on campus.

We recognize the need for spaces that support Black students and that speak to their specific needs and experiences. We also recognize the important contributions made by Dr. Idella Glenn for over two decades. Fundraising for the Center for Inclusive Communities will be a key Student Life initiative in Furman’s comprehensive campaign, and Development is already working to secure philanthropic support. Alumni responded this week with a gift to the Dins Dialogue program. In addition, Furman will:

  • Make plans to expand the Center for Inclusive Communities by making the addition of multicultural space a part of its future growth
  • Appoint a committee to make recommendations for how Furman can best recognize the contributions made by Dr. Idella Glenn as an alumna and former staff member who worked diligently to support Black students at Furman

5. Since the release of the Seeking Abraham report and its recommendations nearly two years ago, it has not been clearly discernible which recommendations the university’s Board of Trustees has executed. We urge a public update on the implementation of the recommendation immediately and request that subsequent updates be made quarterly to the university community.

We recognize the importance of implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice and the Seeking Abraham report. In addition to expanding the Joseph Vaughn Scholarship, several of the recommendations that fall under the purview of the Board of Trustees have been implemented, including renaming Furman Hall, naming the former Lakeside Housing Complex for Clark Murphy, and establishing Joseph Vaughn Day and the related programming, in partnership with students, faculty and staff. And work is underway on several other recommendations, including creating a statue of Joseph Vaughn and a place of reflection where we will celebrate people of color who have had an impact on the university and its history. We will continue to update the campus community about the progress of implementing these recommendations and will continue to work with the faculty to advance the recommendations that fall under their direction, such as curricular and pedagogical enhancements.

6. To improve on campus culture, we encourage mandated implicit bias training for all faculty, staff, current and incoming students while also including continuing education training for faculty, on racial sensitivity. We also urge Furman to institute a zero-tolerance policy on substantiated claims of racism and discrimination (of all forms) from students, faculty, staff, trustees, and other university representatives. This would be inclusive of (but not limited to) protections from retaliation for students who make complaints, hate speech/bullying, student organizations that propagate beliefs rooted in racial stereotypes and bias, and banning symbols representing hatred and oppression on campus (Nazi paraphernalia, confederate flags, etc.)

We recognize the negative role that implicit bias plays in formulating our thoughts and beliefs around race and racism. We further recognize that these beliefs contribute to prejudice and bigotry that support the creation and maintenance of racism. It is important that the entire campus community is aware of this and their unintentional and intentional role in perpetuating racism and discrimination. In an effort to advance a campus-wide anti-racist agenda, Furman will:

  • Mandate training around issues of diversity/equity/inclusion and/or implicit bias for all students, faculty and staff
  • Reiterate in our student handbook and other communications Furman’s existing policies on acts of intolerance and bias incident reporting, and the protection from retaliation for filing complaints and grievances
  • Ensure our campus community is aware of the many ways to report racism and discrimination, including through the bias incident report system and various offices and individuals

7. We invite the university to engage its Black alumni and students annually in a public forum to discuss the needs of Black students, gain more information on how Furman intends to measure diversity and inclusion, and what additional steps the school is taking in the short to mid-term to combat racism on campus and contribute to social and economic equity for all in the local community and beyond.

We recognize the importance of engaging with our Black alumni and students and we understand that we have a great deal of work to do in order to form the bonds of trust that are necessary. To help advance this effort, Furman will:

  • Continue its work to formally establish a Furman Black Alumni Association
  • Implement a university-wide Strategic Diversity Plan to guide our efforts at becoming a more inclusive campus
  • Create an anti-racism plan designed for immediate and long-term implementation on campus
  • Continue our work to connect with and support social and economic equity in the local community and beyond through a revamped strategy that reimagines how we engage in relationships with the local community

We are proud to support the ideas presented in this petition from our Black alumni and know we can do more to engage an agenda that supports our Black community and anti-racism. With this in mind, we want to go beyond what this petition has requested and make additional commitments to bolster our efforts to support Black faculty, staff, students and community members.

In addition to other recommendations that may come from the working group, we also commit to engaging with Black alumni and with local Black communities to encourage the pursuit of inclusive excellence beyond Furman’s campus. We will do this by:

  1. Accelerating our efforts to further engage Black alumni as Furman leaders through the establishment of a Black Alumni Council.
  2. Continuing to seek, support and participate in civic engagement opportunities with Black communities and with Black community organizations.

We recognize the urgency of the moment and pledge to move forward on these actions as quickly as possible while ensuring we do so thoughtfully and with the guidance of the working group and other Black Furman community members.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Davis
President

Michael Jennings
Chief Diversity Officer