In June 2020, Wake Forest shared the final report of the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community. That report outlined 20 recommendations and offered historical and contextual information. It also introduced the RIDE Framework, which grounds our institution-wide inclusion and equity goals and encompasses more than a dozen organizations and departments across campus. Additionally, the report shared our plans to operationalize the Commission’s recommendations; we anticipate sharing our more fulsome approach to those efforts next month.
Several members of our community have worked diligently over the summer to organize our efforts to review and realize the Commission’s recommendations. Below is an explanation of new and developing initiatives as well as a range of resources and programs devoted to enhancing our campus climate. These actions fit into three categories: expanding equitable student experiences; sustaining a more welcoming campus climate; and enhancing community engagement.
Expanding Equitable Student Experiences
Renewed Diversity and Inclusion Goals for Admissions and Financial Aid Support
Wake Forest has been strengthening its commitment to under-served students through programs such as Magnolia Scholars and becoming test-optional. In 2016, the University was an inaugural member of the American Talent Initiative, a national program now with more than 125 university members that promotes expanding access to highly talented, lower-income students. This fall’s first-year class, the class of 2024, demonstrates important gains among Pell and first generation students, while representation among domestic students of color has also increased from 21% to 24%. We aspire to continue increasing the representation of domestic students of color in our first-year classes, and we believe we can accomplish this goal through a combination of proactive recruitment, partnership with community-based organizations and an investment in need-based financial aid. Expanding diversity exposes our students to broader and more complex experiences and viewpoints in every facet of campus life and enriches the educational pursuits and living community for all.
Additional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Educational Opportunities
This year marks the first time that incoming undergraduates were expected to complete an educational module on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion prior to the first day of classes as part of a suite of pre-enrollment opportunities which all new students must complete before the start of New Deac Week programming. This new module provides information and data on the educational and practical benefits of creating and sustaining a more diverse learning community, one aligned with our institution’s core values. Returning undergraduates in the classes of ’21, ’22, and ’23 were also asked to complete the module. Building an inclusive community starts with awareness, which leads to understanding and a shared commitment to our peers, our teachers and all who make up our community.
New African American Studies Program
In April, it was announced that Dr. Corey D. B. Walker would be joining Wake Forest’s faculty in July as the inaugural chair of the African American Studies program. Dr. Walker has shared his teaching, scholarship and leadership talents with the University of Virginia, Brown University, and most recently University of Richmond. Closer to Wake Forest, Dr. Walker has roots in Winston-Salem, having served as Winston-Salem State University’s Dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education from 2013-2017. He spent the 2019-2020 academic year serving as an external consultant to the Wake Forest Slavery, Race, and Memory Project, and edited the volume of essays To Stand With and For Humanity. Dr. Walker envisions working closely with Wake Forest faculty to build a new program with intellectual scope and substance consistent with an Africana Studies thrust. Furthermore, the University is committed to supporting his vision of creating a distinctive program to be nationally recognized for its signature intellectual exploration grounded in the arts and humanities. Ultimately, Dr. Walker and future core program faculty will collaborate with students and scholars across Wake Forest University and throughout the greater community.
Efforts that Enhance Educational Opportunities and Affordability
The new Center for Research, Engagement and Collaboration in African American Life (RECAAL), led by Associate Professor of Religion and Culture Derek Hicks, will serve our academic efforts with students and scholars while collaborating with the greater Winston-Salem community. Its connection to the external community, coordinating with University offices like Office of Civic and Community Engagement and University Collaborations, will include applied research work along with reinforcing local partnerships with houses of worship, schools and non-profit organizations. The RECAAL executive committee has spent the past year planning research-driven initiatives and will continue in these efforts over this next term.
The Affordability Working Group, organized by the Provost’s Office, reviewed methods to alleviate stressors associated with engaging in a fulsome academic experience — from food insecurity to study abroad challenges to textbook cost issues. After evaluating best practices across higher education, data from individual interviews and focus group transcripts across campus members, it became clear that a centralized office was necessary to efficiently and effectively disseminate accurate information, offer counseling and oversee the allocation of funding for students struggling with financial obstacles. Ultimately, the key working group recommendation is a centralized office available to address individual student affordability challenges. An initial draft Affordability Office plan — involving collaboration across existing staff and faculty offices, with no additional staff or space envisioned — is under active consideration.
Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the School of Law
Under the leadership of Dean Jane Aiken, Wake Forest School of Law has been actively raising the levels of racial sensitivity and awareness among its community. Over the summer, faculty expertise at the law school contributed to national and international media coverage on issues of policing, police accountability and prosecutors. A large number of faculty and staff also took on a 21-Day Challenge in which they read a substantial list of critical literature around systemic racism and bias. The School of Law also continues to help address the significant eviction problem in Winston-Salem’s Black community through its clinical programs and partnerships. Most recently, the School has convened a group of its faculty experts to carefully examine the issue of police violence that results in death and injury among members of the Black community, which will result in a series of practical courses aimed at providing legal education to the various stakeholder groups and members of the community involved in or interested in this important issue.
Sustaining a More Welcoming Campus Climate
Advisory Committee on Naming
The Advisory Committee on Naming has been created to review proposed principles and decision rubrics for renaming or contextualizing buildings, roadways and other structures or honorifics, like named faculty chairs, on Wake Forest’s Reynolda Campus. The advisory committee is co-chaired by Trustee Donna Boswell and Dean of the Divinity School and of Wait Chapel Jonathan L. Walton. It includes Wake Forest Trustees, faculty and administrators, including co-chairs of the Slavery, Race and Memory Project, Kami Chavis and Tim Pyatt, who have been engaged in background research in this area. The advisory committee is reviewing key principles for any proposed changes and designating research subcommittees to examine existing materials and further research specific individuals. The committee will make advisory recommendations to the President and the Trustees for removing or contextualizing names, as well as suggest substitute names as appropriate.
Addressing Bias and Equity in the Hiring Process
Wake Forest’s Human Resources (HR) colleagues, in collaboration with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), have developed a suite of inclusive hiring best practices and tools. In addition, the Professional Development Center offers educational opportunities on inclusive hiring and retention. Over the summer, HR and ODI have worked to update their offerings and have sought to incorporate elements of the recommendations put forward by the President’s Commission on Race, Equity and Community. Therefore, effective Fall 2020, all hiring managers for permanent position vacancies — both academic and administrative — must review the information listed on the HR website, and each search committee chair and committee member must participate in a virtual PDC educational opportunity on inclusive hiring. More details will be forthcoming from our colleagues in HR and future updates on retention efforts will be shared.
Enhancing Community Engagement
Boston-Thurmond United Community Initiative
Boston-Thurmond is a residential neighborhood just north of downtown Winston-Salem, along University Parkway and in close proximity to the Reynolda Campus. Wake Forest, along with a set of other local organizations including then-BB&T (now Truist Bank), private community organizations and foundations, and private individuals including Boston-Thurmond residents and stakeholders, combined efforts to establish the Boston-Thurmond Community Network (BTCN) and its board of directors on behalf of the neighborhood in the spring of 2019. In October 2019, the board hired its first permanent executive director, Ms. Regina Hall, to serve as the “community quarterback” to coordinate revitalization efforts using the Purpose Built Communities model.
As the COVID-19 pandemic started to disproportionately impact lower-income communities this spring and summer, Wake Forest contributed to efforts within the Boston-Thurmond neighborhood to provide needed resources and support to residents. Under the leadership of Regina Hall, face masks, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene supplies have been collected and distributed to residents of Boston-Thurmond. Through the efforts of the BTCN Board of Directors, a COVID-19 testing center in Boston-Thurmond was established to facilitate testing and COVID-19 related services for residents. This system of care and support builds upon the Boston-Thurmond United efforts to focus on expanding health, economic and educational opportunities for our Boston-Thurmond neighbors. Wake Forest students, staff and faculty have been involved in neighborhood programs such as K-12 tutoring, expanding broadband access during remote learning and establishing boys’ and girls’ after-school activity clubs. Our institution’s alignment with the Boston-Thurmond community requires us to listen, assist and follow their vision for a better, stronger and more equitable neighborhood for all of its residents, especially the next generation.
Community Effort to Raise $1,000,000 for Black-Owned Businesses
In collaboration with local business leaders, Wake Forest University is supporting a new initiative to provide seed funds and venture capital centered on Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. The funds will be distributed over the next five years, at $200,000 per year. Even as the details of the program continue to be worked out, this competitive initiative will provide recipients of the funds with mentorship and lay the foundation for sustaining the growth of Black-owned businesses throughout our community.
Over the last three years, our campus has hosted the Wake Forest University Freedom School. The Freedom School model, established by the Children’s Defense Fund, engages children from lower economic backgrounds during summer months in academic activities. At Wake Forest, most of the elementary and middle school-aged children enrolled in the program have a parent or family member who works on campus. Wake Forest’s Freedom School — under the leadership of Dr. Dani Parker Moore — is supported by a mix of University and grant funds.