Recommitting to diversity and celebrating Black awareness

The Taylor Family/UTrailblazers Experience honors the legacy of the University's first Black graduates. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami
By Julio Frenk

The Taylor Family/UTrailblazers Experience honors the legacy of the University's first Black graduates. Photo: Evan Garcia/University of Miami

Recommitting to diversity and celebrating Black awareness

By Julio Frenk
President Julio Frenk celebrates the importance of diversity and inclusion and several new initiatives that highlight the accomplishments of Black students and alumni of the University of Miami.

Last month, I shared four cross-cutting approaches to our value proposition, one of which is proactive diversity. Today, as Black History Month—also known as Black Awareness Month (BAM)—comes to a close, I thought it important to dive a bit deeper into our commitment to diversity and to provide important updates. 

First, I’d like to acknowledge the leadership of the United Black Students, the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Multicultural Student Affairs, and Athletics for coordinating several well-attended BAM activities this month to commemorate the extraordinary historical achievements and contributions of the African Diaspora.

Observances like BAM and many opportunities year-round to acknowledge particular groups within our community must engender action, not just words. From the time I arrived at the U, I noted that diversity is one of our strengths. The culture of belonging we have strived to create is one where everyone is valued and has the opportunity to add value. 

With our centennial now three years away, we must redouble our efforts to actively promote and pursue diversity—building relationships and fostering belonging for people from every racial and ethnic background, gender and gender identity, religious and political affiliation, and above all for diversity of thought and experience. 

In a world where acts of hate, such as reports of bomb threats and hate speech at religious centers and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, continue to occur, our intentional integration is one of the ways the University of Miami can be exemplary. As headlines highlight threats to democracy, persistent prejudice, and growing polarization, we have both the ability and the duty to choose a different path. 

Two years ago, we unveiled a 15-point plan to help drive our pursuit of racial justice. To that end, I want to make you aware of some recent related developments and upcoming events. 

Today, we are officially opening the Center for Global Black Studies at the University of Miami. Building on a planning grant from the Mellon Foundation awarded to Dr. Jafari Allen, the center will become a highly visible public-facing link between the University and Black communities both locally and globally, engaged in the holistic coordination of multiple scholarly and cultural initiatives. 

On Friday, we will officially name the Student Services Building at the University of Miami in honor of two distinguished Black members of our community: H.T. Smith, J.D. ’73, and the late Harold Long Jr., B.A. ’68, J.D. ’71. The naming of this state-of-the-art building central to our mission for the longtime friends and colleagues is a milestone, marking the first time in University history that a building will be named for accomplished Black alumni. 

For those who have not yet done so, I encourage you to visit the Taylor Family/UTrailblazers Experience at the Dooly Memorial Classroom Building breezeway. Made possible by a generous gift from University of Miami alumnus and vice chair of the Board of Trustees Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., the exhibit includes a trove of archival materials—all in digital and video format—from the period immediately after and beyond the University’s desegregation. An impressive University of Miami Libraries living exhibition, it chronicles the history of our institution’s first Black graduates. 

This new resource is an ideal complement to annual events like our Students of Color Symposium, which is coming up on Saturday. The symposium, fully funded and supported by the University, provides an opportunity to engage in dialogue on issues that affect the educational, personal, and professional growth of students, enhancing their understanding of diversity, multiculturalism, ethical leadership, and social responsibility associated with living in a global society. You can register for this year’s symposium, Forging the Future: Looking Back to Move Forward, and get more information. 

In addition, we will hold the next of our Courageous Conversations on March 31 from noon to 1 p.m. via Zoom. Exploring tools that allow us to reclaim joy and connectedness after challenging seasons like the one we have all just lived through, we will continue to hold space for engaging with one another. Next fall, we look forward to transitioning the series to an in-person format. 

Finally, I am delighted to announce that on April 20, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., we will gather for a Town Hall on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, in partnership with our Standing Committee. We will assess progress on diversity and belonging, as we showcase the outcomes of the Racial Justice Grants that we unveiled last year and announce the next cohort of recipients. 

We have been intentional in our fight against injustice, and we remain determined to match our words with actions in order to advance our most enlightened aspirations. We have made progress, but our quest for a more equitable world continues both on and off campus.

Julio Frenk is president of the University of Miami.