WMU takes action to advance racial justice

Contact: Laura Probyn

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University is taking action to advance racial justice as it builds upon a strong foundation of equity and inclusion. Today the University is announcing two major initiatives aimed at dismantling systemic racism. Mountaintop Initiatives is a new $2 million investment to advance the University's charge toward racial justice. In addition, the newly formed Racial Justice Advisory Committee will lead efforts to address systemic racism and racial inequities on campus and identify actions to build a campuswide culture of change.

"It is a time for action—and that action must be fulsome and authentic in addressing both individual actions and the systems that perpetuate injustice," says WMU President Edward Montgomery. "The problems that we must address are deep-seated and some of the toughest facing humanity. They are the insidious inequities that hide in the shadows in practices and policies, culture and in our understanding of each other. That is the difficulty of our challenge."

Mountaintop Initiatives

In WMU's current fiscal year budget approved by the Board of Trustees on Sept. 17, Montgomery called for $2 million investment in the Mountaintop Initiatives: Continuing the Climb fund as a down payment to pursue meaningful social change.

"With these resources, we will continue our work in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s address, 'I've been to the Mountaintop.' I will be seeking proposals from the entire community, especially the Racial Justice Advisory Committee, for investments and initiatives that advance racial justice at WMU," says Montgomery. "This initial investment will fund efforts that will move us toward a campus rich in human diversity, strong in our desire to dismantle unjust and inequitable systems and united in an effort to demonstrate that hate and racism have no place among us."

Information about how to formally submit proposals for the Mountaintop Initiatives will soon be forthcoming.

Racial Justice Advisory Committee

The new Racial Justice Advisory Committee (RJAC) will identify issues of systemic racism and racial inequities at WMU and recommend actions the WMU community can take to create a culture of change. The committee is led by Dr. Candy McCorkle, vice president of diversity and inclusion. It is a broad collective of the campus community comprised of representatives from the Board of Trustees, the Office of the President, vice presidents, deans, student government, bargaining units, faculty, staff, students and alumni.

"The charge for this committee is to ensure that we have a collective investment in the future of our campus," says McCorkle. "The RJAC is not just making recommendations to administrators, but looking at what we all can do to begin to change our campus. The work we are engaging in will not be easy or fast because it requires that we begin to identify the problems of the original systems and structures that have created disparities."

The RJAC will provide a recommended list of actions for areas across campus, identify how research, teaching and engagement could promote inclusion at WMU and in the community, offer recommendations for accountability, and provide opportunities to shape change across a broad group of participants.

The new committee will make recommendations for specific areas of campus including, but not limited to:

  • Training and education for faculty to create equitable and inclusive learning spaces.
  • Training and education for staff to create equitable and inclusive work environments.
  • Training and education for students to create an equitable and inclusive campus culture.
  • Reviewing policies and practices that foster racial inequities.
  • Recruiting, supporting and retaining faculty and staff of color.
  • Recruiting, supporting and retaining students of color.
  • Creating programs of study that foster, promote and include equity and inclusion of diverse perspectives and ways of knowing.
  • Creating a review process of policing practices.
  • Identifying means to report bias incidents.
  • Developing review and responses for past and future naming of buildings, spaces and awards to align with institutional values.

A Foundation for Change

The RJAC and Mountaintop Initiatives build on a well-established foundation of efforts at WMU that have been recognized at the national level. Western was recently recognized by Insight Into Diversity magazine with its Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) award for the eighth consecutive year. Only three universities in Michigan were honored with the award this year. The HEED award measures an institution’s level of achievement and intensity of commitment with regard to broadening diversity and inclusion on campus through initiatives, programs and outreach. It is a recognition of striving toward a more inclusive and equitable University. Examples of that work can be found through entities like our Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations and the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy. In addition, recently launched initiatives include:

  • Professional Development Institute: Building Cultural Competencies. Built on a train-the-trainer model, the institute builds strong cultural competency and intercultural communication skills among University leaders.
  • Communities in Collaboration: A three-part series of conversations between students, administrators and police where students could express their needs and call for action.
  • WMU Police Implicit Bias Training: Officers receive implicit bias training as part of the department’s accreditation standards.
  • New workshops on power privilege and identity, microaggressions and cultural humility: The Office of Diversity and Inclusion offers departmental training that enhance cultural understanding.
  • New training for new students and staff: Online diversity and inclusion modules have been added for incoming students and a diversity in the workplace module has been added for new faculty and staff.
  • Climate Survey: In early October, the University will launch a climate survey to assess the experience of all students, faculty and staff.

See the full RJAC charter for more information.

Read President Montgomery's full message here.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.