People and Community University

In the wake of calls for racial justice, the University commits to building a better U

In a letter on Wednesday, President Julio Frenk unveiled a 15-point plan to improve and build upon diversity and inclusion.
Coral Gables Campus
The University of Miami Coral Gables Campus. Photo: Mike Montero/University of Miami

University of Miami President Julio Frenk reaffirmed his commitment to racial and ethnic equality and outlined steps the University is taking to further engage diverse voices across the UM community in a detailed letter sent to all students, faculty, and staff on Wednesday. These actions come amid ongoing nationwide protests against police brutality sparked by the tragic death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd in May, after a white officer kneeled on the Black man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and killed him.

The entire horrific event was captured on video.

“Over the past month, we have been taking a hard look at how we can help heal the pain we see manifest in our communities,” Frenk wrote. “We have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to channel that indignation into urgent and useful action, rather than divisive or destructive behavior.”

Frenk shared a 15-point plan the University will implement to support racial equality, inclusion, and justice across the institution and in the greater South Florida community.

These steps include the following.

  • Appoint a new Special Advisor to the President on Racial Justice, who will be a new member of the president’s cabinet from the University community that will work with deans, department chairs, and others to support racial justice efforts across the institution.
  • Reinvigorate the Standing Committee on Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion. As part of this, a new faculty co-chair will be appointed to work closely with current co-chair, Renee Callan, executive director of student life. They will collaborate with University leaders in a renewed effort to improve access to minorities and other under-represented students, faculty, and staff.
  • Create a new Office for Faculty Inclusion and Diversity. The vice provost for faculty affairs will oversee the office in a continuous effort to support the recruitment, retention, and professional development of under-represented faculty members, specifically Black faculty members.
  • Designate a new Chief Diversity Officer for the Department of Athletics. Renae Myles Payne, senior associate athletic director for administration, has been named to this new role. As a member of the executive staff with direct access to the athletics director, she will be responsible for implementing a diversity and inclusion plan for the University’s student-athletes, administrators, and coaches. The plan will begin with a nine-week educational process focused on race relations and will include implicit bias testing and training, a review of hiring practices and policies, and customized sessions on key topics.
  • Provide accountability for the University and its business partners. The university will further investigate the business practices of potential vendors to see that they reflect the University’s values on diversity, and it will continue to support the Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council—as well as to create incentives for minority-owned businesses, conferences, organizations, and entities to use on-campus facilities.
  • Issue a new racial and climate survey for students and faculty. This will assess the state of the University’s racial climate and will be completed during the 2020-2021 academic year. Data gleaned from the survey will guide future steps to improve the racial climate on campus, with the goal of making every person at the University feel safe and included.
  • Provide comprehensive training on implicit racial bias. University students, faculty, and staff will have to complete online modules on how to engage in the necessary yet painful conversations around structural racism, abuse of power, and societal healing in early 2021. Staff will also undergo training on how to address bias and micro-aggressions, as well as inclusion, in a workplace setting. Some of these trainings have already been completed by the University of Miami Police Department.
  • Offer programs to support Black faculty recruitment. The College of Arts and Sciences is piloting a program that supports five faculty lines to Black scholars in the sciences, and the provost is working with other schools and colleges to explore similar commitments.
  • Attract, retain, and support Black students. In the past five years, the number of Black students entering the University has increased by 47 percent, and the number of Black students earning prestigious awards has increased dramatically. The University will continue to put strategies in place to meet demonstrated financial need at admission, including a renewed commitment to scholarship programs for Black students. The University will also build a central database on courses, research programs, activities, and initiatives that support underrepresented students, and Black students especially.
  • Support, amplify and extend faculty research on anti-Black racism and bias. The University will offer more funding opportunities for scholars who explore these topics. A new U-LINK award aims to catalyze interdisciplinary collaboration on research to advance our understanding of individual, institutional, and structural racism, as well as its impacts on many facets of society.
  • Create a new Center for Global Black Studies. The University earned a planning grant from the Mellon Foundation to establish this new research hub, which aims to become a public-facing link between the University of Miami and Black communities both locally and globally.
  • Strengthen the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. The University will renew its commitment to this important haven for students of diverse backgrounds and is committed to fully funding the Students of Color Symposium each January.
  • Direct One Book, One U to focus on racial justice. The University’s program that commits to reading a specific book will now focus on selecting pieces of literature that explore issues of racial justice and equity.
  • Invest and partner with the Black community. The University of Miami will work and volunteer time with the local community to address issues of racial justice and equity. In particular, the University will provide educational resources, admissions programming, and other forms of support to Black and other marginalized communities in Miami—such as Overtown, Little Haiti, Coconut Grove, and South Miami. The University will also launch an internal grant program through the Butler Center for Service and Leadership to support interdisciplinary teams of faculty, staff, and students to implement tangible initiatives to fight racism.
  • Engage with local police departments. Although the University already requires all UMPD officers to complete discriminatory profile training, the University will start a conversation with both the University and Coral Gables police departments to share best practices and open the lines of communication with students, parents, faculty, and staff about concerns and recommendations for improvements to policing practices. One aim of the conversation will be to agree upon de-escalation policies, community action steps, and diversity and sensitivity trainings.

Frenk concluded the letter by saying that these actions are simply a starting point and that more will be added with time and discussion.

“We will be tireless. We will be passionate … we will help our community begin to heal, together,” he wrote.