By Richard Feldman
As cochair of the Presidential Commission on Race and Diversity two years ago, I had an opportunity (then as Dean of the College) to make concrete recommendations on how to effect positive change with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community. In my current work, I don’t want to lose sight of several important recommendations that commission made with respect to leadership, students, faculty, staff, and climate.
Two events—one Friday and one last week—have resonance with our community’s shared goals in these areas, particularly on the subject of climate.
As part of our ongoing work to create a welcoming and inclusive community, our Annual Diversity Conference will take place on Friday of this week with the theme “Overcoming the Invisible.” The conference sessions are designed to explore how we can deconstruct stereotypes and find ways to break through unconscious biases. We are fortunate that Ana Navarro, Republican strategist and political analyst for CNN and CNN En Español as well as political contributor on ABC’s The View, will be the keynote speaker. The conference, now in its ninth year, is the result of the leadership of Vice Provost Vivian Lewis and a lot of hard work from dedicated staff in the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity and others. I am grateful to all of them for their efforts to put together an exciting list of speakers and conversations to generate meaningful dialogue.
The Diversity Conference is free and open to the public. I expect and hope we will have a large gathering to think constructively about living inclusively and respectfully.
Last Thursday, as part of the Frederick Douglass Institute Speaker Series, a standing-room-only event was a fascinating intersection of living history and Rochester’s connections to civil rights. I had the honor of presenting Kenneth B. Morris Jr., cofounder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, with the Frederick Douglass Medal in connection with his talk, “One Million Abolitionists.” Part of what made the event especially meaningful was that Morris is a descendant of two civil rights leaders—he is the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and great-great grandson of Booker T. Washington. Morris offered a moving presentation about his family, the pressure he felt in following in his ancestral footsteps, and his commitment to confronting modern challenges associated with race and modern forms of servitude. His talk, sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies and the Humanities Project, emphasized our individual responsibility to teach and model human dignity. Morris’s presentation was both informative and entertaining. I was delighted to see that members of the Rochester community comprised nearly half of the audience.
Morris will return to campus in May for the College commencement to accept the honor of a posthumous honorary degree on behalf of his great-great-great grandfather, Frederick Douglass. I look forward to recognizing and celebrating Frederick Douglass’s civil rights legacy, a movement that lives on today in the voices of younger generations.
Welcome to Words from Wallis Hall. This regular communication from President Feldman will serve as an ongoing opportunity to share important updates on the University’s efforts to strengthen a culture of respect, and to keep the campus community informed of people and programs that make Rochester a world-class institution.