Urbana campus administrators are considering a host of initiatives regarding the campus climate for underrepresented minorities and to increase awareness of issues of diversity and inclusion, including the possibility of creating a required general education course.
"We have a lot of work to do in that space," Interim Chancellor Barb Wilson told members of the Senate Executive Committee at their Jan. 25 annual meeting with the president.
Wilson has devoted a great deal of focus to issues of diversity and inclusion since she was appointed to the interim post Aug. 12.
She took over amid a national conversation about racial equality, highlighted by the issues of income and access, and the national spotlight on unarmed black citizens being shot by police.
Students have held vigils to highlight those issues locally, which administrators have attended and supported. When online threats aimed at the group surfaced, administrators moved to have the website shut down.
"We can have tons of policy, but if it's not a part of our community, it won't help," Wilson said. "We have to show what we're all about and we have to keep talking and learning about each other."
She said the general education class, which currently is being discussed and considered by the senate's Education Policy Committee, would focus on ethnic minority issues in the United States, including the impact of "microagressions" – small, seemingly insignificant words and actions that make the recipient feel excluded.
Wilson said there also are efforts being undertaken to find a qualified replacement for Menah Pratt-Clarke, the former associate chancellor and associate provost for diversity.
President Tim Killeen said all three campuses are working on revisions or additions to their diversity policies.
"We want to take it on as a real problem, not as the figment of someone's imagination," he said, adding that all students should be guaranteed peace, respect and community during their time at the U. of I.
Killeen has appointed Urbana professor James Anderson, a professor of history and African American studies in the College of Education's education policy, organization and leadership department, as a presidential fellow charged with leading the campus conversations on diversity.
Anderson will act as a liaison between the campuses and the Office of the President.
Anderson is a renowned scholar on issues of race and education, having written "A Tale of Two Browns: Constitutional Equality and Unequal Education" in 2012, as well as other books and journal articles on the topic.
Wilson said getting to where the campus should be on issues of equality would demand soul searching that may cause some discomfort – but the process would lead to greater understanding.
"I'm pretty optimistic," she said, "but we have to discover how to have tough conversations with each other and open up perspectives and dialogue, even when we don't agree."