College of Charleston President Andrew T. Hsu sent the following message to the campus community on Thursday, June 11, 2020:
Dear College of Charleston Community,
On May 29, members of the College’s senior administration and I sent a message to campus condemning the despicable acts that resulted in the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.
In the days that followed, we received many reactions to this statement, both positive and negative. It is in response to this feedback and in light of all that has occurred around the country since our statement was issued that I am writing to you today.
First, I want to say, the College of Charleston and I believe that Black Lives Matter. Black lives matter not just when it’s convenient for the rest of our society or when we hear of another horrendous death of a black person taking place somewhere in our country. Black lives matter today and every day – on our campus and everywhere in the world. Racial violence, racial profiling and the use of excessive force by police against black people is wrong and must stop.
And until the College of Charleston becomes part of the solution to addressing the long-standing systemic issues that hold back many African Americans and perpetuate inequalities, we will remain part of the problem. I will not stand for this; you have my word that we will be part of the solution.
I’m saddened to hear that many of our black alumni feel disconnected from their College. I want to listen and understand why that is the case, so that we, as an institution, can fix it. I will be meeting with black alumni soon to hear their concerns and to begin addressing them.
To our black students, black employees and black alumni, you deserve action. You have waited far too long. You need to see that the College cares and values your histories, your lives, your contributions and your futures. I need your help to achieve the kind of change we all want to see. Please consider giving your time and your ideas. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will find ways to get you involved.
Sadly, issues of inequality are not new to the College. While no organization is immune to racism and injustice, the sense of division at our university seems more profound to me. As I learn more about Charleston and its history, I am seeing more clearly how deep the wounds of slavery, Jim Crow and racial injustice truly are.
This must change, and I believe it starts with the College’s new 10-year strategic plan, which includes several meaningful diversity initiatives, including:
- Requiring mandatory diversity education and inclusion training for faculty and staff.
- Developing a more robust mentorship program for underrepresented minorities.
- Recruiting more underrepresented minorities and first-generation students.
- Providing resources to faculty members to assist them in facilitating course-related “critical conversations” on the COVID-19 pandemic and this summer’s protests through a lens of racial disparities.
- Investing more in our diversity programming on campus.
- Engaging more directly and deliberately with our black alumni. (I’ve spoken with current College of Charleston Alumni Association President Michael Renault ’95 and in-coming President Derrick Williams ’99, and we will work closely together to better engage and support our black alumni.)
- Establishing a diversity advisory board made up of alumni, faculty, staff, students and community members. This group will serve as a sounding board for my administration and provide feedback on proposed initiatives. I want this group to be national in scope, so that we can benefit from many different perspectives.
- Reviewing our budget allocations, including those for student-led organizations, to enhance our diversity initiatives.
- Raising more private funds to support initiatives for underrepresented minorities.
But these initiatives, while important, may not fully address systematic issues affecting the College. For that, I am asking the entire campus community to review all internal policies and practices to identify any unintended biases.
The good news is that much of this work is already underway. I know many of you have worked on diversity initiatives and committees over the years to address the disparities you have seen for decades at the College. I know that a lot of work has been done and that we have made progress. Some of these efforts include:
- The Office of Institutional Diversity (OID), led by education professor and Chief Diversity Officer Rénard Harris, was elevated to a cabinet-level office, with Vice President Harris reporting directly to me.
- Over the past four years, the dedicated staff in OID has created and implemented dozens of programs and workshops aimed at educating the campus community about topics such as microaggressions and race, LGBTQ+ bullying, race-based and gender-based stereotyping, and many other important issues.
- OID established Crossing the Cistern, a one-year program that provides financial, academic and mentorship support to a diverse group of students in academic hardship.
- The College launched the Diversity EDU module, an online diversity seminar for first-year incoming students.
- The 1967 Legacy Program was launched as a fundraising priority of the Drive for the 250th. This program is designed to improve the recruitment, retention, graduation and workplace success of African American students.
- The College committed, as part of the celebration of our 250th anniversary, to telling a more complete story of our history. The College unveiled a new state historical marker on George Street that notes the College resisted the enrollment of white women until 1918 and went private in 1949 to avoid racial integration. The College has also launched a new history website that highlights the stories of underrepresented people and groups who helped build and grow our university.
- The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture collects, preserves and makes available rare and unique materials to students, scholars and the larger community. It offers a wide variety of online resources and in-person programming for our community. As our nation struggles to confront and address racism and intolerance, Avery’s work, such as the Race and Social Justice Initiative and the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, is more important now than ever, providing historical context around current events and reminding us of the many sacrifices and contributions of African Americans to our shared history and culture.
- The Office of Admissions has been at the forefront of the College’s efforts to recruit more black students through residential programs for juniors and seniors, overnight experiences for multicultural students, the Cougar Advantage (CA) program, which offers automatic admission to S.C. students in the top 10 percent of their public high school graduating class, and the Cougar Advantage Pledge, which provides full tuition for students who meet CA program requirements and who are Pell eligible.
- The Office of Multicultural Student Programs and Services coordinates several programs that are vital to the success of African American students, including the SPECTRA summer transition program for entering freshmen.
- The Alumni Association has worked hard to recruit a diverse Board of Directors, and more than 25 percent of the directors are now people of color. In July, Derrick Williams ’99 will become president of the Alumni Association, the first black alumnus to hold this office.
But the progress we’ve made doesn’t feel substantial to many members of our College family. And, therefore, it seems to some like inaction. I understand these feelings. Having just completed my first year at the College, I admit that I have been frustrated at times with the amount of time it takes to get things done. Part of this has to do with the deliberative nature of higher education and the bureaucracy that comes with being a state agency. But it’s also been my personal experience that the slow pace of progress stems from deeply entrenched ideas and a culture of complacency.
I hope to have some of these initiatives I outlined above finalized soon. Until then, please know that I hear your concerns that the College does a lot of talking, but doesn’t always follow through with action. Seeing the hurt and passion and conviction playing out in the protests around the country and around the world has put organizational leaders like me on notice: We must do whatever it takes to level the playing field for African Americans. And we will.
Andrew T. Hsu, Ph.D.
College of Charleston