UofM Announces Eradicating Systemic Racism and Promoting Social Justice Initiative

August 16, 2020 - The University of Memphis is committed to academic excellence via diversity and aims to become a national model of institutional transformation to address the challenges of race and social justice magnified during these unprecedented times.

UofM President M. David Rudd announced in an email to the campus community a reform and change initiative designed to target the Eradication of Systemic Racism and Promotion of Social Justice within the University and larger community. It is a transformative initiative that will involve and impact all major levels of University programming, alumni, regional and national engagement.

“As an institution of higher education in one of the most diverse communities in America, our University is committed to being part of the solution,” said Rudd. “We are a place of hope, healing and healthy debate. We have an identified set of core values that embraces fairness, equity and justice, and we are committed to living those on a daily basis, particularly when they are most needed. It is clear that Memphis needs us, and we are here to help. I will be reaching out to our campus to assist in facilitating the change and reform needed. I am proud to be a Memphian and a part of a community that works together. Our University is committed to being a part of the solution and helping drive the change and reform needed.” 

In September 1959, eight African Americans demanded that the UofM recognize their right to attend the University. Known as the Memphis State Eight, Eleanor Gandy, Sammie Burnett Johnson, Marvis Kneeland Jones, Bertha Rogers Looney, Rose Blakney Love, Luther McClellan, Ralph Prater and John Simpson persisted in demanding this right despite daily harassment and discrimination on campus. 

Over the years, the UofM has made great strides in diversity and inclusion. We are recognized annually by Diverse magazine as one of the “Top Producers of African American Graduates.” Specifically:

Top 20 in the nation for undergraduate degrees awarded to African American students (#17)

Top 25 for law degrees awarded to African Americans, top 40 for doctoral degrees and top 100 for master’s degrees.

Top 10 for programs including master’s in liberal arts and humanities (#1), history (#3) and doctorate in philosophy (#9). 

However, the death of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police and protests for racial equality around the world have created a moment of disruption, contemplation and opportunities for the UofM. By examining its policies, practices and outcomes, the UofM aims to create transformative institutional change that will help eradicate structural racism and institutional biases. 

Daphene R. McFerren, executive director of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, Dr. Karen Weddle-West, vice president of student academic success/director of diversity initiatives, and Linda G. Hall, associate dean of Multicultural Affairs, are providing guidance, infrastructure and oversight of this initiative. They have created 14 focus areas and workgroups that will be co-led by a carefully selected, diverse group of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community and corporate leaders. 

The working groups will address the following areas: 

• Closing Gaps in Retention and Completion of Students from Historically Underrepresented, First-generation and Low-income Populations  

• Recruiting, Hiring and Retaining Tenured and Tenure-Track African American Faculty and Other Faculty of Color 

• Community Engagement, Policy and Advocacy

• Training for Faculty, Staff and Students-Cultural Competence

• Infrastructure, Support and Assessment of Eradicating Racism Initiative

• Equity, Race, Career Opportunities, Salary

• Curriculum: Infusing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice into Existing Courses

• New Program Development, Race and Social Justice  

• Fostering a Sense of Belonging and Support for All

• Contracting with Minority Businesses

• Institute for Public Service Reporting/Radio Partnership with Crosstown Concourse

• Recruiting and Graduating African American Doctoral Students and other Graduate Students of Color

• Branding

• Health Disparities and Academic Achievement

This work will be challenging. To reach successful outcomes, the UofM will seek support from faculty, staff, alumni, community leaders, foundations and corporations, among many others. 

The UofM is poised to become a standard-bearer for racial equality and social justice. This initiative is core to that critical goal.