A recent racially motivated incident aimed at U. of I. minority students is a reminder that racism continues to be a serious societal problem.
The lesson revealed itself in the form of a social media page aimed at the local Black Lives Matter group, which holds regular social justice vigils on the U. of I. Quad.
The site was quickly taken down at the request of university administrators, who said the site was encouraging others to profile students involved in the BLM movement.
According to Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson, the incident was ugly – but it was also a cohesive moment, a time when U. of I. leaders were able to unify with students and commit to an even greater campus effort to address inequality and racial diversity.
"(The incident) revealed we still have a lot of work to do," she told members of the Senate Executive Committee at their Nov. 30 meeting. "But it also was an opportunity to show that we already are doing a lot."
Wilson said the campus in the last several years has made diversity a priority, work that is starting to show in enrollment statistics.
The university has implemented several academic and administrative strategies to identify and attract qualified students from minority and other underrepresented groups.
Those students are actively recruited as early as high school, introduced to scholarship opportunities and, once on campus, given access to programs to ensure success from the freshman to postdoctoral stages.
She said last year's increase in the enrollment yield for African-American students, from 42 to 67 percent, shows the efforts are starting to pay off.
Wilson said diversity training is now a requirement for new hires and, starting last spring semester, for first-year students.
She said the idea is to teach students and employees to identify and address issues before they become caustic.
"The idea is to get to our students and staff early and help them think about diversity in a broad way," she said. "I think we're doing a lot. We're already leaders, but we can do a lot more."