To the Duke Community,
On Friday, we celebrate Juneteenth, the day when enslaved people in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation that had been issued by President Lincoln more than two years earlier. We do so at a somber and sobering moment in our history, as our nation confronts the horror of police violence against Black people, amidst the backdrop of systemic racial inequities and injustices that have been laid bare by the pandemic.
In recognition of Juneteenth’s message of liberation from oppression, and out of respect for the anger, sadness, exhaustion, and courage of our Black friends and neighbors, this Friday, June 19, will be a day of reflection for the entire Duke community. I encourage you to pause from your regular work and reflect both on the ongoing history of systemic racial injustice and how it manifests in our neighborhoods, our places of work, our families, our faith communities, and at Duke. To the extent possible, managers should provide employees with time to take part in programs and observances for this day of memory and contemplation.
I hope that this opportunity for reflection will prove valuable for you, as I know it will for me. I cannot as a white person begin to fully understand the daily fear and pain and oppression that is endemic to the Black experience. Instead, I have been seeking to listen, and to learn. I’ve been meeting with my colleagues and reading Black authors and theorists, some here at Duke. And I’ve been reflecting on our national, and regional, and institutional history.
Those of us who are not subject to the daily oppression of racism must engage deeply, and with humility, with humanity, and with honesty. We must commit to doing so in a sustained way and not only in response to a moment of national crisis. We live with overwhelming evidence of systematic differences in life chances. They are there to be seen. And yet too often those of us not burdened by racism choose not to see, or we choose to explain away these disparities rather than move to correct them.
Here at Duke, we aspire to be agents of progress in advancing racial equity and justice; but it would be more than fair to say that we have often not fully embraced that mission. Our history makes that clear. We have accomplished so much in which we take pride, and yet we have often been slow to do the right things, the hard things, the transformative things.
We must take transformative action now toward eliminating the systems of racism and inequality that have shaped the lived experiences of too many members of the Duke community. That starts with a personal transformation, and I’m prepared to do that work. It must end in institutional transformation, and that is the hard work before all of us. And that is my responsibility: to put my full energy as president behind that effort.
That work begins today. I commit the university to the following actions, which, in recognition of anti-racism’s vital importance to every level of institutional activity, are embedded within all five core aspects of Duke’s strategic framework, Toward our Second Century.
First, as we commit to empowering our people, we will
- significantly and measurably expand the diversity of our faculty, staff, and students, with particular focus on Black, Indigenous and people of color;
- expand our need-based student financial aid, at all levels, and increase faculty support for Black, Indigenous and people of color, through chairs and other means;
- seek and support a diverse community of staff, through robust workforce development and pipeline programs for underrepresented populations; and
- ensure salary equity and promote excellence by increasing diverse leadership opportunities at every level of our organization.
As we commit to transforming teaching and learning, we will
- incorporate anti-racism into our curricula and programs across the university, requiring that every Duke student—in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs—learns of the nature of structural racism and inequity, with special focus on our own regional and institutional legacies;
- assess and remediate systemic biases in the design of our curricula;
- amplify our student success resources to ensure that all students are able to take full advantage of Duke;
- fully mobilize and expand Duke’s research capacity to address and help overturn racism and reduce racial disparities and inequities in policing, justice, health, housing, education, labor, and other domains of life, including new avenues of support for scholars who examine these issues; and
- establish and support Duke as a global educational and research leader in anti-racism.
As we commit to building a renewed campus community, we will
- require anti-racism and anti-bias training for every member of our faculty, student body, and staff in an effort to foster a more inclusive environment for all members of the Duke community;
- enhance support for our students, faculty, and staff who are experiencing pain or trauma related to racial injustice;
- establish a program of coordinated surveys of our faculty, students and staff to assess and inform our progress in addressing bias and promoting respect, meaningful inclusion, and true equity in our community;
- highlight Black excellence throughout the campus community and increase the visibility of Black scholars, students, staff, and alumni; and
- hold leadership accountable through the annual review process for promoting a more inclusive, equitable Duke.
As we commit to forging purposeful partnerships in our city and region, we will
- strengthen relationships with the City of Durham and support the empowerment of underrepresented communities;
- create internships for local students, expand local workforce-development programs, and elevate mission-consistent employment and engagement opportunities throughout the community;
- deepen our engagement with North Carolina Central University and Durham Technical Community College, as well as Johnson C. Smith University, with whom we share a historic relationship through The Duke Endowment; and
- support an expanded pipeline for transfer, graduate, and professional applications from students at community colleges and HBCUs.
Finally, as we commit to activating our global network, we will
- redouble our efforts to support our alumni who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, including expanded opportunities for networking and professional mentorship;
- provide opportunities for alumni who are Black, Indigenous and people of color to connect with students on campus;
- reach out with educational programs for our alumni on racial inequities and injustices; and
- assist in mobilizing Duke alumni to be agents of positive change in their communities.
These actions are only a starting point. Righting the wrongs of history will take time, and our efforts will need to be focused and sustained. We must also be far clearer about our goals and transparent as we work toward them.
To that end, I have charged our executive leadership—our Provost, Executive Vice President, and Chancellor for Health Affairs—to develop and implement a structure for rigorous assessment, accountability and reporting on our progress. I have also asked for a preliminary implementation proposal from the university’s senior leaders and the deans of each school by September 1; I will update the university community on our progress by October 15.
Ultimately, real progress will require an embrace of both personal and institutional humility, admitting to our blindness, our lack of understanding, and confusion.
Real progress will require an abiding commitment to humanity, to actually and deeply caring about each other’s life chances—enough to change them for the better.
Real progress will require both personal and institutional honesty, as change will only come if we seek, confront, and own our truth.
As a Duke community, we want to lead the way: on a campus that has had its share of painful moments, and here in the American South, with its legacies of enslaving Black people, undermining Reconstruction, enforcing segregation, and resisting integration through Massive Resistance and other means, and brutally suppressing—and even to this day frustrating at so many turns—the life chances of our Black neighbors and colleagues. We want to lead because when we commit to an anti-racist mission and truly lift up, and support, and celebrate Black lives and Black excellence, we will become a better and more perfect version of the great institution I believe we are.
We cannot, on this Juneteenth, bring news of true freedom—freedom from oppression, violence, and systemic racism. In many ways, even after a century and a half, that goal sadly remains elusive. But today, we can bring news of Duke’s commitment to be partners on the path to achieving it, and to resolutely turn our attention toward the mission of anti-racism.
Vincent E. Price