Striving to become an anti-racist university

April 14, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

This week’s outrageous fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright at the hands of Minnesota police has left many of us feeling raw. And that law enforcement killed another black person amidst the current trial of former policeman Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd has naturally led to a resurfacing of intense anger and disgust. As it should.

For those of us who are able to draw so strongly upon white privilege, I acknowledge that we will never be able to truly understand the pain experienced by those in our community for whom such events have all too frequently come to define their relationship with law enforcement and many other aspects of this country. It is my hope that at the University of Oregon we all will continue to do our part. Mr. Wright’s tragic death and the Chauvin trial make it all the more important for us to reaffirm that our institution values the worth and dignity of all people. We collectively stand firm against injustice of all kinds as we continue to find our way toward becoming an actively anti-racist institution.

This means that we must work hard every day to be anti-racist. To that end, we must continually commit ourselves to making UO a better place for all people—in the classroom, in our interactions with each other, and across our campuses.

I am asking everyone to please understand that:

  • We are called to continue to examine the operations of the university to make sure they are fully equitable and inclusive for all students, faculty, and staff. Over the last year, all academic department heads, deans, and administrative leaders have been involved in multiple trainings and discussion groups, the most recent being the “Trauma Informed Leadership” series organized by the UO Division of Equity and Inclusion. Our institution actively engaged in the implementation of House Bill 2864, a piece of statewide legislation calling on all of us in higher education to approach our work with cultural humility. The University Senate has created its own Anti-Racism Academy and continues to examine how to ensure that we teach within inclusive classrooms and build tools to evaluate whether we are achieving this goal. And we have initiated a new data-analysis initiative that focuses on disaggregated diversity information at all academic levels of our organization, with a particular emphasis on understanding and closing the opportunity gap for underrepresented students.
  • We are called as an academic institution to use our scholarship to shine a light on the underlying issues around race, and to serve as a beacon leading the way toward action and policy that help create a more just and equitable society. We continue to celebrate and find new ways of supporting the outstanding work faculty are doing in this space, with the recent $4.52 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create the Pacific Northwest Just Futures Institute for Racial and Climate Justice being a recent example. Conversations and action around the structure and focus of the new Center for Racial Disparities and Resilience that I announced in October are well underway as we honor the commitment to increase the number of faculty of color at UO.
  • We are called to support the members of our community who continue to suffer harm from these circumstances. People are not OK. You might consider directly reaching out to those close to you and checking in on how they are doing. Be especially aware and supportive of your colleagues for whom students of color look to for support. This unnamed burden, to feel the weight of the moment and yet be called to directly care for the emotional well-being of our students of color, can be overwhelming for many. It should fall on all of us. If nothing else, please be attentive to the time that all of this demands, and look to find ways to lighten that load.

We must model this for our students.

Our students look to our classrooms and labs as safe environments where they can process these events. Over the last year, we have heard from students that they would like to engage on these racially-sensitive issues within the academic setting. We have also heard from faculty members who are unsure of how best to do that. Those who are interested in making space in their classrooms to check in with students on these topics can find resources available here. If concerns for your students arise, please steer them toward our campus resources.

To be sure, there is some uncertainty that lies ahead. We have no way of knowing for sure how the Chauvin trial will resolve itself. If he is exonerated, we can anticipate that emotions for many will turn from raw to actively outraged. These can be particularly difficult moments for universities; this I recognize. But I also recognize (and hope) that by engaging in difficult conversations now and by reaching out to those most in need, we can continue to hold our community together; and we can build upon the progress that we have made over the past year.

Clearly, we are well past the time of empty platitudes, and instead are called upon to engage in real, tangible action. I am proud of the work that we have been able to accomplish, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Yet, I am realistic that it will take years of focused effort to address these issues, many of which are predicated upon further diversifying our student body, our faculty, and our staff. Let’s resolve together that we will never waver as we continue to lean into this important and necessary work. This is my ongoing commitment to you. Take care.


Patrick Phillips
Provost and Senior Vice President