President’s Leadership Initiative on Inclusive Excellence
Remarks at Founders' Day Convocation
Feb. 21, 2018
Today we celebrate the founders of Illinois Wesleyan, who were lawyers, doctors, teachers,
artisans, mechanics, farmers and ministers — for their time, diverse in their cultural
and educational backgrounds, as well as in their interests and occupations, but united
in their commitment to furthering the cause of higher education. Now, 168 years after
our founding, diversity in all its forms remains central to the mission of Illinois
Wesleyan University. But how we think about diversity has changed and expanded over
the years. We seek to train leaders for tomorrow’s multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial
and multinational society. That each of us — students, alumni, faculty and staff —
come from differing backgrounds is both cause for celebration and a source of strength. It
is therefore fitting that on this day honoring our founders we launch a commitment
to diversity that we expect will guide us into the next generation of our University's
You've heard me, and other University leaders, speak previously about our commitment
to diversity, with diversity defined broadly as differences between community members
who come from the full human spectrum of life experiences. Especially for our students
from underrepresented circumstances, this commitment must be demonstrated beyond aspirational
language. It must be made tangible in the financial aid students receive, in who students
see as mentors and teachers, and in the experiences available to everyone in our campus
community. We're here to describe a focused commitment of energy and resources that
will accomplish meaningful change.
The political scientist Robert Putnam, in his famous book Bowling Alone, talks about the “social capital” that makes communities, whether large or small,
strong. Putnam says that there are two kinds of social capital: bonding capital, which
binds us to each other within our sometimes narrow groups; and bridging capital, which,
by spanning gaps between communities, binds these groups together. We’ve begun building
this “bridging capital.” To continue to do so, we must heighten our efforts not just
to accept, but, to celebrate, the differences between us. Meaningful changes then
cascade, as we recognize our diversity as shared strength, and use it, purposefully
and consciously, to continue to build a diverse, open, and welcoming community. To
that end, I am announcing the President’s Leadership Initiative on Inclusive Excellence.
There are three components to this initiative:
The first pillar is students. We’ve been quietly preparing for this, for a number of years leading up to today's
public declaration. We have been encouraged by our emerging successes in efforts to
improve both access to Illinois Wesleyan and our climate on campus, in ongoing efforts
such as the following:
- Through focused admissions and financial aid efforts, we have doubled the proportions
of domestic students of color in our incoming class.
- We have been recognized as being one of the 50 most LGBT Friendly Colleges and Universities
by College Choice, based on the Campus Pride index.
- We’ve partnered with the Posse Foundation, an effort through which Illinois Wesleyan
provides leadership scholarships to students from diverse backgrounds who might have
been overlooked, or might have overlooked us, in the traditional college selection
- Another leadership program, our Summer Enrichment Program, offers workshops, speakers,
service projects, and local internships for selected minority and international students.
- Engaging Diversity is a pre-orientation program allowing white students to build lasting
relationships that value the diversity on our campus and in our community, helping
them to engage that diversity in their personal and academic lives.
- We are working to secure funding for a lecture series as part of our already successful
3D programs, supporting diversity, dialogue and dignity.
The successes that we have seen to date have come through purposeful efforts. We know
that work remains. To fulfill our educational mission of preparing global citizens
who can effectively engage across difference, our students should encounter peers,
teachers and mentors representing the broad possibilities of human experience. Therefore:
The second pillar is experiences in the classroom, including the diversity of faculty and staff contributing to these experiences.
- Aggressively pursuing opportunities to diversify the faculty and staff, and putting
strong processes in place that we believe will impact our ability to recruit and retain
diverse faculty. This includes adopting a Search Advocate Program – a program that
recognizes unconscious bias in our search processes and allows us to review our process
for the best outcomes.
- Providing ongoing professional development for staff and faculty, allowing our community
to continue to comprehend changing demographics, life experiences and inclusion.
- Investing institutional resources in the curriculum with course development microgrants,
supporting efforts to bring questions and issues of diversity into the classroom so
that intercultural fluency permeates our classes – even in subjects where you might
not expect it – because diversity affects the insights we bring to problem solving.
The third pillar is campus-wide action. We will champion inclusive efforts on all levels.
- Each division and department will be asked to create an action plan toward making
change over time.
- We will recognize inclusive excellence through a Faculty Award for Inclusive Excellence,
a Staff Award for Inclusive Excellence and a Departmental Award for Inclusive Excellence.
- We will continue efforts like last weekend's Posse Plus Retreat, at which 64 students,
faculty and staff discussed “Hope, Hate, and Race in the United States.”
- We are committing to implementing the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge, which is a national effort to make companies, universities, and other workplaces
trusting places in which to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about
diversity and inclusion.
- We'll continue to plan opportunities fostering meaningful dialogue among students,
faculty and staff.
Undertaken collectively, this commitment will acquire momentum, to propel us into
a future where each one of us – faculty, staff and students – can come to understand
our individual role in making a world that is inclusively excellent. I look forward
to the years ahead, as this exciting initiative unfolds. We – together – are forging
an exciting new path for our community, and we – together – will make our founders