The University of Virginia Racial Equity Task Force is recommending a sweeping set of changes at the school, including removing Confederate and racist symbols, funding scholarships and endowments for minority students and faculty and rooting out procedures and policies perpetuating prejudice.
The report, released on Monday, seeks to make the university “a system in which racial identity neither predicts nor determines one’s access, success, nor influence within the University of Virginia – where people of any racial background have an equal probability of thriving.”
The task force was created in June by UVa President Jim Ryan as protests broke out across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other Black people at the hands of police across the country.
Ian Solomon, dean of the Batten School of Public Policy; Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion; and Barbara Brown Wilson, a faculty member in the School of Architecture and the faculty director of The Equity Center were appointed to review past recommendations at the university and pursue new ideas.
“Our report is a call to action for the University of Virginia to commit seriously to racial equity and to implement a dozen concrete initiatives that are important to the university’s future,” the task force members wrote in a letter to Ryan. “You encouraged us to be bold and action-oriented and we hope this report will not disappoint.”
Wes Hester, a UVa spokesman, said Ryan has received the report and is reviewing it.
“Once President Ryan has concluded his review, he plans to discuss the report with the Board of Visitors at a special meeting on Aug. 17, and will then announce next steps for moving this work forward,” Hester said. “President Ryan is grateful for the task force’s hard work and for the community input that enabled this important undertaking over the past several weeks.”
Hester said the task force members based their report on recommendations, demands, and suggestions made over the years. The effort included input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the community.
The report notes that racial equity, where all have an equal chance regardless of race, differs from racial diversity and racial inclusion.
The task force defines diversity as more minority students in the otherwise white student population and traditional white academic structure. Racial inclusion is defined as ensuring those who diversify the school actually matter to the school and can enjoy and contribute to it.
“Equity demands that we not only include a diverse population, but that we reimagine how the institution operates so that all people are equally likely, statistically, to join, to contribute, to thrive, and to exercise authority, influence, and governance in determining the shape and future of the institution,” the report states.
The task force members said there is much work to be done.
“The bad news is that structural racism is pernicious and persistent, and it requires that we commit to a level of intention and rigor that ensures our investments, policies, practices, traditions, and the landscape we inhabit cannot quietly reproduce past inequities,” they wrote. “For this Southern flagship university to commit to racial equity would mean courageous investments in repair, in redress, and in restoration.”
The task force divided recommendations into categories designed to create racial equity on Grounds. Those categories are infrastructure and investment; access and success; racial climate and group relations; education and scholarship; and healing and repair.
“Racial equity must become a central focus of leadership and governance rather than just another initiative,” the task force report states. “It must be fully integrated into the 2030 Strategic Plan and should pervade all decision-making,” including operations in the health system and university investments.
“UVa has an opportunity and also a responsibility to lead the transformation of higher education away from models that are too often elitist, exclusive, and demonstrably tied to perpetuating historic racial and economic inequities and toward a new paradigm that serves our highest aspirations of widespread social mobility, inclusion, and racial justice,” the report states.
According to the report, all Americans share in the country’s failure to recognize the humanity of Native Americans and African Americans and the post-Civil War failure to redevelop a society that shunned the injustices of slavery and white supremacy.
“We bear the burden of racist policies and practices adopted during the age of segregation that still have effects in our organizations today,” the report states.
The report notes that UVa was “built by enslaved laborers, on Monacan tribal land, and the enslaved people provided labor and knowledge that supported the students and faculty from the time of the University’s founding through the Civil War.”
It also notes that UVa faculty “were important contributors to the eugenics movement and supported segregated schools” and that UVa only opened its doors to minorities and women when forced to by lawsuits in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Because of UVa’s distinctive role in this history, both nationally and locally, our responsibility now to rethink our approach to higher education and to use this challenging history as an opportunity for forward-looking research and education is especially profound,” the task force wrote.
One initiative the report recommends is removing racist, white supremacist and other names and symbols to make the grounds more welcoming to minorities. It specifically mentions removing the George Rogers Clark statue to be replaced with an indigenous peoples tribal center.
“If statues, plaques, and building names comprising the cultural landscape of the institution are meant to convey what we hold to be collective values, then certain aspects of grounds should evolve as our values change,” the task force report states. “To be a truly welcoming place, the university should demonstrate its rejection of previous support for white supremacist ideology by removing all symbols that honor the confederacy, genocide, or eugenics.”
The report also recommends recreating the grounds to interpret history to include the participation of enslaved labor and minorities.
The initiatives set down in the report include making “an immediate, significant financial down payment towards the systemic change required” in the next five years. Also needed is the creation of an assessment method to assure the university community follows through on the efforts.
The report calls for increased funding for the diversity, equity, and inclusion division to help meet racial equity goals and creation of student recruitment and retention programs to help reflect “the racial and economic demographics of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Other initiatives include doubling the number of under-represented minority faculty by 2030 and closely auditing policies and procedures that reinforce entrenched inequality in hiring, wages, retention, promotion and procurement.
The report calls for increased anti-racist education for the UVa community to help “dismantle racist policies and practices in the systems” and to “foster a culture of belonging,” as well as reviewing tenure policies and creating an endowment to fund the Carter G. Woodson Institute.
Also included in the report is a recommendation to provide compensation to “the descendants of enslaved laborers who built and operated this university without compensation.”
“We recognize that for people who may be less familiar with the dynamics of racial inequity in the university context, 12 new initiatives are a lot to digest,” the report states. “It would certainly be simpler to target one or two problems in isolation and hope that everything else would fall into place, but the drivers of change are interrelated and interdependent.”
The task force wrote that it recognizes the changes are drastic and expansive as well as expensive, but members said they believe now is the time to do it.
“It will not be easy. Because racial equity requires real changes across the organization and our habits and practices and policies and mindsets and budgets and landscape, our list is long,” the report states. “[But] we believe UVa is capable of doing many big, complex things at once.”