Dear USM Community:
On Tuesday, July 14, and in this past Monday’s July Missive, I shared with you the Faculty and Staff of Color Association’s “A Call to Our USM Community to Mobilize Against Racism” letter (please see the link below), including a list of action steps that we are starting to catalyze. The FSOCA and IDAC are engaging many campus departments to, as the FSOCA writes, “take prompt and concrete action to address the challenges embedded in USM’s own institution and culture.” And the Cabinet and I continue to consult and work with FSOCA and IDAC on developing communications and programming to make USM an antiracist university.
I’m deeply heartened by the grass-roots, departmental responses to the FSOCA’s call to action. The commitment of the Office of Sustainability, articulated in the email below from Assistant Director of Facilities Management for Sustainability Aaron Witham, is one example I share below in the hope that it inspires other departments to think critically about how to effect change at USM. The Honors Program’s Commitment to Antiracism is another helpful exemplar, and I know other departments and offices have or are in the process of pledging their support through specific action steps.
These plans are proof that practicing antiracism can take many constructive forms. I thank all departments and offices for their response to the FSOCA’s call to action. And I thank the FSOCA and IDAC for their work to ensure we fulfill the promise to our community in our Tenth Goal: USM will uphold the Principles of Equity and Justice.
With all best wishes,
Our team has developed a list of goals to share with you for feedback and for inclusion in the shared document. Please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions. We appreciate the effort of FSOCA and IDAC to bring this conversation to the forefront.
Here are three actions that the Office of Sustainability will take in response to specific items outlined in FSOCA’s letter “A Call to Our USM Community to Mobilize Against Racism”:
- In response to "developing and funding student fellowships dedicated to affirmatively combating racism," we will utilize our donor-restricted conference fund on energy conservation and environmental sustainability to promote and recruit students to attend conferences that address the intersection of energy conservation/environmental sustainability and racism/inequity. Additionally, we will make a concerted effort to ensure that opportunities to attend any conferences we fund are widely shared with students of color on campus.
- In response to "recruiting and retaining faculty, staff and students of color," we will find training on effective strategies for doing this with staff and student positions, we will take that training and we will employ learned strategies (including within our Eco-reps program which incorporates the majority of our employees and students). To get started, we have brainstormed some initial ways that we think can make student and staff job opportunities more widely visible and welcoming to people of color, and we will implement those strategies this summer.
- In response to the request to facilitate online learning for those who experience barriers, we will work to proactively identify and solve anticipated barriers as they pertain to our only online program, which is our Eco-reps program (that will be primarily online this Fall due to Covid). The work to identify barriers will require some combination of focused research, training, and/or a focus group.
In addition to the needs outlined in the letter, we feel that a supporting goal can be:
- Giving/holding 10 presentations/discussions per year (5 per semester) in USM classes on social sustainability (which includes the concept of how human inequity and racism are unsustainable for societies and ecosystems). Our Office doesn’t teach semester-length classes, but we are sometimes invited to give presentations on sustainability to existing classes, and/or attend class discussions. We don’t get a lot of requests for social sustainability discussions, so we will have to be proactive in reaching out to faculty and trying to get opportunities to bring the discussion to their classes. The concept of social sustainability is not often acknowledged, not often understood, or both. It brings up some very important topics like how people of color and low-income people are disproportionately negatively impacted by climate change and how our modern supply chain is not only environmentally destructive, but also socially destructive by its reliance on human exploitation). Often, environmental issues are also social issues and more often than not, they share solutions. When they don't share solutions, then it's good to understand why, and then to work to find solutions that have a positive impact on both causes.
Dear USM Community,
I write to share an important development in our collective work toward achieving Goal 10: USM will uphold the Principles of Equity and Justice. The Faculty and Staff of Color Association (FSOCA) has formed and come forward to help guide the President’s Cabinet and the University community to greater levels of equity and anti-racism.
Below, please find the FSOCA’s letter to the administration and the University. Upon receiving this letter, President’s Cabinet immediately met with the group for a thoughtful and productive conversation. The FSOCA provided a list of action steps, some of which we are already starting to catalyze. I am grateful that they have brought forward their concerns and perspectives, and are committed to strengthening the University community through their advocacy.
The FSOCA comes at an important time for USM, as we are soon to be joined by Will Johnson, our new Director of Intercultural Student Engagement, and a new Associate Vice President of Equity, Inclusion & Community Impact. The search for the latter position is reaching its final stages, and we look forward to introducing the finalists to the University community.
On behalf of the Leadership Team and the University, we are ready to work. We are committed to building a partnership with the FSOCA and to take action toward our goals to advance social justice and equity at USM. Their formation ensures the right voices are at the table to help lead our work.
With gratitude to the FSOCA and all best wishes,
A Call to Our USM Community to Mobilize Against Racism
Dear USM Community,
We, the Faculty and Staff of Color Association (FSOCA) of USM write to introduce ourselves as an organization working collaboratively to provide support and advocate for people of color at USM. In addition, we write this letter to call on the USM community to imbue our platitudes with action. Though appreciative of recent statements of support and commitments to training, we urge our community to take prompt and concrete action to address the challenges embedded in USM’s own institution and culture. We are heartened that USM has adopted a tenth goal of “upholding equity and justice”, but a goal is insufficient. Without mobilizing necessary support and action to achieve this goal, it remains an unfulfilled promise to our community.
The recent pandemic has heightened awareness of the inequalities and disparate access in our society as COVID- 19 disproportionately ravages communities of color in Maine and the U.S.; and embedded racism plays out in our social institutions, including USM. It is crucial that in the midst of these crises, we do not perpetuate these injustices and disparities. While we appreciate the assertions of University leadership that we will take a stand against racism, we are concerned that, by highlighting acts of racism in other cities (Minneapolis, Atlanta) and other social institutions (police, public safety, federal legislation), we neglect the necessity of addressing the injustices practiced right here at home. As a public university committed to justice and diversity, it is vital for us to recognize our own complicity in these injustices and take prompt assertive action to address them. Microaggressions, unequal opportunities, tokenism, and disparate access are part of the daily life of many faculty, staff, and students of color at USM.
Beyond the proximate bounds of our university, the injustices in our society are inadequately addressed and integrated into our curricula, culture, and conversations at USM. Right here in Maine, the “whitest” state in the nation, the disparities in access to health care, education, social opportunities, and leadership positions, are brought into stark relief by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Maine, the pandemic is threatening people of color at nearly ten times the rate of the “general” population. The Maine CDC now reports that Black and African American people make up almost 28% of people who have tested positive for Covid-19, even though they make up only 1.6% of Maine’s population. No other state has a bigger disparity.
Disparities pervade Maine’s social institutions. Though less than 1% of Maine’s population, Black Mainers make up 7% percent of the incarcerated population. Students of Color graduate from high school at a rate of under 70% in Maine, compared with an overall graduation rate of 87%. College students of color make up approximately 20% of USM’s student body, but college completion rates for these students is generally reported to be less than 40% (specific data for college completion by race/ethnicity at USM could not be located -- which is itself indicative of a problem). These disparities are only exacerbated by the minimal representation in leadership positions of people of color in Maine: The Maine legislature includes only two representatives of color. The Governor’s administration includes only two people of color, and there are no people of color in Governor Mills’ cabinet. At USM, there are no people of color in senior administrative leadership positions; people of color are only 3.1% of USM’s faculty, 2.7 % of USM’s salaried staff, and 2.2% of hourly staff.
These inequities are all related and they need to be confronted head on. The injustices impact all of us, even right here at USM -- and they do disparately evince trauma, suffering, and stress in our students, faculty, and staff of color. As we prepare for a fall of continued crisis response, we must also confront how our “adaptations” to distance learning and working only exacerbate these severe inequities.
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (required reading for USM’s CORE Ethical Inquiry classes), Martin Luther King Jr. noted that the “. . . great stumbling block in [the] stride toward freedom is . . . the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice. . . . Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” As representatives of one of Maine’s most racially and ethnically diverse public institutions, it is incumbent on us to maintain a standard beyond hypocrisy. In addition to assigning a book like Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist (2019), we must model equity and perspective in our own interactions.
We, the USM Faculty and Staff of Color Association, believe that now, especially during this crisis, is the time to re-dedicate ourselves to the mission of USM – not just in word, but in action. It is in this spirit of justice and equity that we raise these concerns.
In this light, we call on USM’s leadership to meet with representatives from the FSOCA at the soonest possible date to address the following actions:
● Support and endorse a USM faculty-and-staff-of-color advocacy group, such as FSOCA, and recognize the expertise and recommendations of this group as more than merely advisory.
● Compensate and encourage time in regular working hours for staff to participate in anti-racist activism, advocacy, and engagement; as well as support and reward this work in annual reviews, remuneration, and promotion.
● Develop and fund student fellowships dedicated to affirmatively combating racism. These fellowships would include both financial and mentor/scholarly support to integrate their academic work to the application of fighting racism in our institution and community.
● Recognize, support, and reward in faculty promotion, tenure, and remuneration anti-racist activism, community engagement, applied practica, and action research.
● Take active steps to not only recruit, but retain faculty, staff, and students of color.
● Systematically measure recruitment, retention, and support of faculty, staff, administration, and students of color; and make this data available to the community.
● Support an independent and accessible USM committee/collaborative body (not just singular positions beholden to the Office of the President and disconnected from institutional systems) to accompany the newly created AVP of Equity and Inclusion position. This committee may be the IDAC group, but empowered to effectively advocate for faculty, staff, and students of color; as well as measure the impact of policy changes to promote equity; and hold USM leadership accountable for proposed changes.
● As we organize for remote learning in fall 2020, concertedly address the barriers that may be disproportionately borne in this medium by students of color and particularly by immigrant students, first-gen, and low-income students; and take constructive proactive steps to ameliorate these barriers.
We call on our USM community to consider our respective roles in the perpetuation of injustices at our own institution and our responsibilities to constructively confront them. We offer ourselves to the USM community as a resource and as a touchstone of solidarity and collegiality. We look forward to a timely response from USM’s Leadership to address our call.
With regard and aspiration,
Joyce Taylor Gibson, Suheir Alaskari, Nadine Pembele, Reza Jalali, and Michelle Vazquez Jacobus on behalf of 26 members of the USM Faculty and Staff of Color Association
Dear USM Community,
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers marched to Galveston, Texas, where they told the Black people enslaved by White masters that the Civil War was over. It had taken more than two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, for the Black people of Galveston to see a glimmer of America’s promised freedom.
In the wake of that history, June 19 has grown to mark an Independence Day for many Black people. Known as Juneteenth, today is celebrated widely among Black communities. And this year, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others at the hands of law enforcement, it is especially important to honor the significance of Juneteenth by reflecting on our history and envisioning where we go from here.
This year, Juneteenth comes at a difficult time for our nation, and also a difficult time for many of our students, especially our Black students and Students of Color. USM, a historically White institution, strives to be the “University of Everyone,” and we will be forever striving to live up to that promise. We realize that though 47 states, including Maine, recognize Juneteenth, 2020 is the first year we are sending out a Juneteenth message. We acknowledge our national failure to give this day its full due. USM can do better, and USM will do better going forward.
We recognize that we are just embarking on this journey, and that we have much learning to do. Juneteenth is an opportunity for us to reflect, build awareness, and also educate ourselves. These steps are critical if we are to build the inclusive, equitable community we aspire to foster at USM. As we undertake this work, we invite you to join us. Here are a few ways you can celebrate Juneteenth with us:
Support local events:
1. Attend “Racial Injustice: Reimagining Policing and Public Safety.” This is the first in a series of conversations on racial injustice hosted by the University of Maine School of Law. This public forum will be held from noon to 1 p.m. today. To learn more about this important event and to register, please visit the Conversations on Racial Injustice website.
2. Participate in the Indigo Arts Alliance’s Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival. This virtual book festival celebrates Black authors and illustrators of children’s books featuring Black characters. The website also features art activities, speakers and performances.
3. Attend State Theater’s Juneteenth! concert, featuring local Black musicians and raising money for local Black organizations.
4. Attend The Abyssinian Meeting House’s annual Juneteenth celebration, June 20th, from noon to 3 p.m. in a virtual format.
5. Learn about and engage with the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations’ work to address systemic racism in Maine.
Support regional and national events:
6. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (a Smithsonian Institution museum) is offering two days of free online events.
7. The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire is offering programming on June 19 and 20.
As we recognize the significance of Juneteenth, and as we engage our USM community in learning and celebration, we acknowledge our responsibility — both as individuals, and as an institution of Higher Education — to confront the deeply ingrained racist policies that continue to deny BIPOC access to education, employment and healthcare. Much as the Black people of Galveston were denied freedom prior to June 19, 1865, today Black Americans are still denied the rights of full citizenship. It is all of our responsibility to face not only that history, but also this present reality. USM will no longer let Juneteenth pass uncelebrated. Please join us in honoring this great day here in 2020, and moving forward.
With thanks to the following individuals for providing thoughtful counsel and help on our first Juneteenth message:
Dr. Rebecca Nisetich, Assistant Professor, Director of the Honors Program, and co-chair of USM’s Intercultural and Diversity Advisory Council (IDAC)
Sarah Lentz, Muskie M.P.P.M. graduate 2020, Co-Chair of IDAC
Erik Eisele, B.A.’07, M.P.P.M.’20
Dear USM Community,
Last week our nation received an abhorrent reminder that racism is far more than a societal ill, soon to be cured. Racism lies deeply embedded in every corner of the American landscape. And it is often lethal.
Violent injustice has permeated our history. Now, however, the portal of technology brings millions of Americans to the recorded killing of George Floyd being suffocated in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers who ignored his desperate pleas for mercy. He joins a four-hundred-year column of black victims of white brutality, most recently Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade, among many.
This incident occurs against the backdrop of COVID-19, which has put on display how racism operates within the fiber of America. The virus disproportionately impacts communities of color as a direct result of carefully-crafted racial policies in housing, healthcare and employment.
As a university, USM stands against these injustices. We make a collective and individual call for accountability and justice. Today, we bear witness to the precarity of black lives, both at the hands of individuals, and at the hands of our systems and policies. Today, we are angry, disgusted and saddened. Today, we stand in solidarity with all those calling for an end to this legacy of racial violence. We remember that our ultimate calling is love.
But dismantling this legacy requires more than somber reflection. It requires action. So USM will take two immediate actions:
- USM will require all university police personnel, as well as all leadership staff (assistant directors and above) in Student Affairs, to complete the Racial Equity Institute program. REI will give our officers and staff tasked with overseeing disciplinary concerns a deeper understanding of the race-based structures of our history. To the credit of the leadership in both areas, full endorsement to this expectation came swiftly and supportively.
- USM will place philanthropic resources for Promise Scholars and Access to Education as one of our top priorities for fundraising in the campaign ahead. These scholarships highlight the potential for civic leadership in our student body and help erode the financial inequities that create barriers to higher education.
USM will also continue its Common Read Discussion Groups of Ibram Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist, and we call on every member of the USM Community to both read Kendi’s book and take part in a discussion group. Sign-up to join a group.
The USM leadership team has been its own How to be an Anti-Racist discussion group for months. We have finished the book and moved on to other materials, deepening our understanding of how oppression operates and perpetuates itself. We ask every department at USM to do the same.
Additionally, this summer 20 faculty and staff members will participate in USM’s first-ever Antiracist Institute. And I am pleased to announce that Dr. Kendi has rescheduled his postponed 2020 Commencement address and public lecture for May 2021.
As Kendi states: “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist’.”
USM stands with those committed to dismantling racial inequities. Racism not only limits — it also kills. To stand silent in this moment is to stand with racism. Please stand as an anti-racist with USM.
Dr. Glenn Cummings
"USM president: In order to grow, university must address issues of equity, justice"
By Glenn Cummings Special to the Press Herald
Four years ago, when I began my tenure as president of the University of Southern Maine, I set nine critical goals for the university. They were goals that focused on academic excellence, student support, enrollment, retention and financial sustainability.
I am proud to say that we have made tremendous progress on these goals, and today USM is a university that is strong, growing and on the move. However, as the university has grown – and as I have grown – I have come to realize that we need to add a 10th critical goal: a goal that focuses squarely on equity and justice.
In every person’s life, we can anticipate opportunities – some of them unexpected – that lead us to go deeper in our relationships with others, forcing us to change our life circumstances, or to handle our personal challenges in new and more productive ways. Sometimes growth comes on a platter of kind and generous support, even serendipity. Other times, it derives from the humility of failure and exposure of our own shortcomings. In most cases, however, the context for growth comes with a mixture of both.
The same holds true for any institution. Our university is no exception. In the past few years, USM has made meaningful strides in the areas of diversity and inclusion: We installed new prayer and meditation rooms to accommodate our religious diversity; we instituted a series of implicit bias and diversity trainings for faculty and staff; we established new donor-funded scholarships that supported asylum seekers and students from underrepresented populations; last fall, the racial and ethnic diversity of our newly appointed and rehired full-time faculty reflected the same percentage as our student body – a first for us; and a second year of convocation events on the issues of race and participatory democracy dotted our calendars, bringing award-winning speakers to our campuses. These are just some examples of our efforts.
But we fall short. This year, disciplinary actions, hiring policies and resource allocation all exposed the shortcomings in our perspective and actions.
USM must begin a new journey that goes beyond inclusion and diversity to address issues of equity and justice. I say this, because the diversity and inclusion framework fails to go deeply enough. Some scholars have described these initiatives as the language of appeasement rather than transformation.
To uphold instead the principles of equity and justice demands a commitment of higher education to ask more profound questions about access, safety, opportunity, visibility and power. And it requires us to act upon the answers.
Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, a professor of educational leadership at Bowling Green University, helps us see the difference between ‘diversity and inclusion” and “equity and social justice” with a set of fundamental questions:
• “Diversity asks, ‘Who’s in the room?’ Equity responds, ‘Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?’ ”
• “Diversity asks, ‘How many more of (pick any minoritized identity) do we have this year than last?’ Equity responds, ‘What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?’ ”
• “Inclusion asks, ‘Have everyone’s ideas been heard?’ Justice responds, ‘Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?’ ”
To go deeper begins, always, as an inside job. USM’s journey will not be quick or easy or comfortable. For me personally, it will challenge my own long-held, comfortable and sometimes self-righteous views, pushing me to humbly acknowledge that I should speak less and listen more; defend less and act more; avoid less and love more.
I use myself as an example because, as a symbolic representative of the institution, such a perspective must start with me. In a larger sense, however, we are all trusted servants of our public institutions and our common welfare, and no progress can occur except together. I hope that you will welcome the journey ahead and join us in our efforts.
In the hours following the terrorist, hate-filled mass shooting of people of Islamic faith in New Zealand, I want to reach out to our campus community, and most especially our Muslim students, to let you know it is my strongest desire and highest priority to make sure everyone here feels welcome, appreciated and safe.
Horrific and tragic events like yesterday’s New Zealand massacre are becoming way too familiar, whether it be an attack on Muslims, people of color, people of the Jewish faith or the LGBTQ community. But let us not allow the frequency of such events to numb us; rather, it is my fervent hope that it motivates and emboldens us to stand with one another.
Starting right here at USM, we must continue to strive to be a university that embraces and cherishes our diversity, and ensure that every single person on our campus knows they are a valued member of our community.
Dr. Glenn Cummings