Promoting an Equitable, Just, Diverse and Civil Simmons Culture
“Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation.”
— Gwen Ifill '77, '93HD
The second annual Ifill Forum, held November 14 on the fourth anniversary of alumna Gwen Ifill’s passing, was a rich, vibrant, honest and thought-provoking set of conversations that offered deep insights…and hope. The voices we heard that day are still present with me now, as I continue to listen and learn about the steps we can take as a community to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
But first, we have to confront some hard truths.
As I listened to Washington Post columnist Michele Norris moderate a panel discussion with Sherrilyn Ifill, head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and filmmaker Ava DuVernay, I knew the truth of Sherrilyn’s words: “We are just at the beginning of the work.” The racial reckoning our country has experienced in the last several years is not a conclusion but an initiation. It is up to all of us, individually and collectively, to take up the depth and the breadth of the work ahead. Sherrilyn said that “we have to have the vision for something new and the tools to build something new.”
We must use education, activism, and the power of our stories to make change. It will take our full attention, our unabated energy and our sustained commitment. As Ava told us, “the story of ‘us’ is written word by word, and line by line.” I know that sometimes we are weary. So much around us has been hard and hurtful, and people of color have too often carried too much of the burden to raise awareness and effect real change. What gives me hope is that, even in this uncertain and fragile time, I feel a profound will for social justice in our country and on our campus.
And, Ava said so powerfully, “What cascades from justice is the potential for unity.”
When we turned our attention to the second program of the Ifill Forum, Community Reflections, we listened to the stories of Simmons community members as they helped us face hard truths that reflect longstanding inequity here on our own campus. It is hard to hear about the pain that members of our community have felt — students, alumnae, faculty and staff -- but hear it we must if we are to make progress. When senior and BSO president Jenia Brewington '21told us that she sometimes feels Simmons was not built for her or with her in mind, it brought tears to my eyes.
We must do better. We can do better. We will do better.
First, my personal commitment: I pledge to work as hard as I know how to foster racial and social equity here at Simmons: in our teaching and learning, in our scholarship, in our culture, in our community service, and in our hiring and recruitment processes.
I want to model inclusive leadership, and as I said during our Community Reflections program, for me inclusive leadership is a three-step process. It starts by understanding more about myself: how to lead with my strengths, how to recognize my biases. Our identities shape our practices and knowing who you are is a critical first step in leadership. It also means working hard to gain a true and unbiased sense of others, their differences, their similarities, their strengths, their vulnerabilities and fears. Finally, we can be inclusive leaders when we build the story of “us,” when our goal is socially-just leadership that invites everyone’s full participation.
Together, we will listen and learn. Kenyora Parham ’10, president of the Simmons African-American Alumnae Association, said something profound when she reflected that the last few years of racial reckoning have given us a greater vocabulary with which to speak our truths. It is imperative to share our stories, and to listen carefully to others with the intention of understanding more deeply.
Together, we will affirm our guiding principles: Every member of our community must feel a sense of true belonging, be treated equitably, and have agency and voice.
Together, we will co-create the vision and the tools we need to realize our aspiration of becoming the most inclusive campus in New England. Within my first few weeks as president, I created the President’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to help us with this work. I invite you to learn more about the Council’s charge, and its membership. This must be a collective effort, one that engages our community broadly and deeply. Recently the Council’s working group published a powerful Statement of Solidarity for Racial Justice that says it well: As members of the Simmons community, it is up to each of us to promote an equitable, just, diverse and civil Simmons culture, confronting systemic racism and other discriminatory practices wherever we see them.
W.E.B. Du Bois wrote of “the hope of a higher synthesis of civilization and humanity, a true progress…” This hope of true progress is one the Simmons community shares and aspires to. We all have a role to play in realizing this aspiration so that we may lead, live, and learn inclusively — and so each member of our community can thrive.