Virtual Summit Highlights Importance of Sustaining Racial Equity Work
June 26, 2020

ACE hosted its first virtual summit, “Race and Crisis at a Crossroads,” June 22 in partnership with American University, bringing together over 100 higher education professionals to explore findings from a new ACE report and what institutions can do going forward.

The conversation was particularly timely as the country continues to be rocked by the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and subsequent calls for racial justice. As American University President Sylvia Burwell said in her opening remarks, “As leaders of educational institutions across this country, I think we all know that our missions provide us with an opportunity and obligation to take up this challenge—racism, criminal justice reform. That’s why events like today’s event are so important. They can help us all learn to better understand the role of leadership in supporting the campus community in the midst of ongoing racial trauma. Your commitment to turn these insights into action is not just what we as universities need, but also what our nation needs.”

The first panel presented findings from “Leading After a Racial Crisis: Weaving a Campus Tapestry of Diversity and Inclusion,” ACE’s recently released second report on the 2015 racial crisis at the University of Missouri–Columbia, also known as Mizzou. Report co-authors Adrianna Kezar and Sharon Fries-Britt spoke about the rare opportunity to examine a racial crisis and recovery in real time, while Mun Y. Choi, president of the University of Missouri System and interim chancellor of the University of Missouri–Columbia, spoke about the vulnerability it took to be so public about the incident, but how the work of the reports has helped improve the university. “I’m glad we did it,” he said, “The discomfort that we feel as university leaders is nothing compared to the discomfort that our students and faculty members of color felt. Only through the process of opening up will we find ways to improve.”

Kezar also talked about the importance of examining context that leads up to and may give warning of bubbling racial unrest, looking at it from the institutional, local, state, and national levels. Fries-Britt examined how Mizzou raised its capacity to address issues of racial injustice after the incident by bringing in new leaders, getting the students and community involved, and providing funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Following the panel, participants were divided into breakout groups and provided with guiding questions. This gave them time to reflect on the session, reframe key takeaways in their own words, and apply what they learned to the specific contexts of their own institutions.

The second panel focused on navigating diversity, equity, and inclusion going forward. Fanta Aw, vice president of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence at American University, expressed that campuses must go beyond merely creating a task force and report after a crisis. They must take actions that build trust and sustain it, which involves connecting with people who have credibility in the affected community and making sure to communicate with authenticity. She also talked about the importance of language, of not using “diversity and inclusion” as a euphemism for issues specific to race. NaTashua Davis, interim vice chancellor of the Division of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity, and executive director of access and leadership development at Mizzou, pointed out that institutions must begin preparing now for what looks like will be a divisive election season this fall. Two other major takeaways were that every single person in the campus community has to take personal responsibility for educating themselves and speaking up and that students need to be taught racial fluency just as they are taught math and writing before they go out into the world as colleagues, citizens, and leaders.

After that, participants returned to their breakout groups for another short discussion about what actions they will take as a result of attending the summit before being called back together for final remarks.

This summit was generously supported by EAB, a member of the ACE Thought Leaders Circle. A recording of the panelist sessions is available on ACE Engage®, ACE’s online community and learning platform. Create a complimentary account to view the recording and join the Race and Equity discussion group to continue the vital conversations about race and equity in higher education. Please also keep an eye out for information from ACE about an in-person event at American University, in partnership with Sodexo connected to this summit, once health and safety conditions allow.

Find It on Engage

Continue the conversation in the Race and Equity group on ACE Engage.


Webinar Recording

Watch the recording of the June 22 virtual summit "Race and Crisis at a Crossroads" on ACE Engage.

Watch the recording

Learn More About Lessons From Mizzou

Take the ACE Engage microcourse “Race Relations on Campus: Lessons from Mizzou” to learn about some of the findings from ACE’s first report on the University of Missouri–Columbia.

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