DePaul Shares Speech and Race Action Plan with University Community

At DePaul's Convocation on Sept. 1, remarks delivered by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., included an update on the university's Speech and Race Action Plan. The comprehensive plan outlines specific, measurable tasks that the university as a whole will pursue throughout the 2016-17 academic year. Newsline sat down with Liz Ortiz, vice president of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity, to learn more about the action plan and how it will be implemented.

How did your office work with the university community to develop the action plan?

Last spring, we had a number of events on campus that created an environment where people didn't feel safe or respected. In the wake of those events, the university held several town halls, and meetings with students, faculty and staff. We gathered and studied all of that feedback and then asked 'How do we move forward'? We cannot change what happened, but we can learn and grow from it. And we can try to put protocols and procedures in place to prevent it from happening again.

As OIDE, the PDC and Student Affairs and many others developed the plan, we asked ourselves a lot of questions. How do we translate our values as a community into actions? How do we demonstrate that commitment through our words and programs? How do we talk to each other across perspectives? What types of policies do we need in place to vet speakers but still protect free speech? What kinds of forums or training should we pursue?

We are being intentional about using a collaborative rather than a top-down approach. We listened to the community first. These are not action items we developed on our own this summer. This plan grew out of comments that our community shared with us at town halls and other meetings.

Why do we need a Speech and Race Action Plan?

As painful as the events last spring were for our community, we are hopeful that learning can come out of this experience.  DePaul learned that we can improve our procedures, and we need to reconsider the way we approach key elements of the community learning experience.

The language of fear and polarization in our larger society has become a new normal, and it has had an impact on our campus. Our students are experiencing it. They're living it out in their college experience, and we need to give them the tools they need to prevail in such an environment - to participate in difficult conversations. Additionally, we need to give ourselves the tools to join in these discussions but we also need to go deeper as well, looking at systems, policies and every day to day practices to see if there are inequities and processes that can be transformed to be more inclusive. 

Are some of these action items already underway?

Yes, numerous initiatives began over the summer. To make it easy to follow, we've collected them all on the OIDE website and will continually update them. Student Affairs has convened a task force to reevaluate the process for student organizations that are bringing speakers to campus. Numerous groups undertook training this summer, including Joint Council and Public Safety, to name just a few. Individuals have been assigned to find new models of hiring and retaining employees, supporting student success, and negotiating the complex questions around speech and expression. The Race and Free Speech Speaker Series will launch on Sept. 19 with a talk by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. These lectures and discussions will help us encourage the dialogue about race and free speech, but they are by no means the only events on this subject. Many of our colleges and units will host their own events too. For example, on Oct. 7, The Theatre School is hosting a teach-in and cancelling classes to provide a forum to discuss racial concerns, and the SGA will host quarterly town hall meetings.

What are the next steps?

We will continue to work with the university community to implement the recommendations as outlined in the action plan. We will work with Faculty Council, Staff Council and SGA moving forward and we have commitments from every dean and vice president to implement the plan in their departments and units. Lastly, we will track progress on the OIDE website. We will continue to share updates with the university community throughout the year.

How will we measure success?

We can look at representative diversity in our student, faculty and staff population, retention and promotion and graduation data and conduct satisfaction surveys, but I think this is also about us healing and coming together as a community. It would be naïve to say if we do "x," this will all be fixed. There is no panacea for what's going on in society and on our campus.  We know the pain our community is feeling, and we must address the causes of that pain. We have a responsibility to put action steps into place that will help prevent this from happening again and have clear guidelines in place that reflect our mission and values.

The goals in the DePaul Speech and Race Action Plan will not be achieved overnight. This work will take years, but we have to lay the foundation and build on it every day. And we must remember that because we are a community, if one of us is hurting it affects us all.  ​