Fulfilling a dream

Students, faculty and staff,

As we begin this new semester, I would like to reflect on discussions about diversity and inclusion we had last semester and our ongoing work on these issues. This is especially fitting as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this week through various events on campus and in our communities.

KU has a complicated history in the area of diversity. We can be proud that, since its founding, our university included students of color, as well as women, when other universities did not. But for much of its history, this university practiced or was complicit in systemic discrimination against blacks in housing, public accommodations and other areas.

More recently, KU has had a robust strategy to ensure our university is diverse and inclusive. I believe we do well in this area compared to peer universities, and I encourage you to learn more about our efforts in our 2015 Diversity & Equity Report. But as we learned last semester, we must do better.

I am proud of the work our university is doing to make our community more welcoming and supportive. As we announced in December, the Provost’s Office is developing an action plan that promotes diversity and inclusion. An initial version of that plan will be shared with you next week. Additionally, we are just a few days away from launching our university-wide KU Climate Study, and our newly created Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group already has met and will begin its work in earnest this month.

All of this is in addition to the Diversity Leadership Council Workgroup, which addresses diversity issues on the Lawrence and Edwards campuses, and the KU Medical Center’s Diversity & Inclusion Cabinet, which includes representatives from the Kansas City, Wichita and Salina campuses.

I expect our community to continue engaging in this topic, and I applaud the students, faculty and staff continuing this conversation in classroom discussions and campus forums. We strive to be a leader in this area, and that requires your support. As Jayhawks, we are united in saying that racism and discrimination will not be tolerated here.

At the same time, we must balance our rejection of intolerance with an equally strong insistence on free speech and the free expression of ideas as an intellectual community. One of a university’s most important contributions to society is to be a center of debate, thought and discourse that advances our world.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to equity and justice, and it makes me immeasurably proud that many of you are taking up this cause in a way that values free speech. I ask each of you to dedicate at least some of your time here to ensuring the University of Kansas fulfills its ideals as a diverse and inclusive community. If we can do that, we can help ensure Dr. King’s dream is still alive.

Best wishes as you start the new semester.


Bernadette Gray-Little