From the President: Racial Equity Comes into Focus

By Irene Mulvey

I ran for AAUP president with a slate whose platform included a promise to address the concern that, as a predominantly white organization in a white supremacist society, the AAUP was not living up to its mission to promote higher education as a public good. This was not a new idea in the organization or within its leadership, but the One Faculty slate purposefully decided to make the pursuit of racial justice a central plank in our platform, and we vowed to hold ourselves accountable to that promise.

This aspect of our platform took on inescapable urgency after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by police and the flood of outrage and protests in support of Black Lives Matter that followed. The news cycle has moved on, but our work continues. My commitment, and the commitment of the One Faculty slate, hasn’t wavered.

We are deeply engaged in the work of our racial justice initiative, and I am grateful that our governing Council set aside significant resources—time and money—for this vitally important effort. Very early on, it became apparent that the process in which we needed to engage is a more complex one than I had imagined. Rigorous racial justice training was essential before we could even begin to think about the implementation of organizational change. Elected leaders and AAUP staff are nearly finished with a multifaceted, monthslong training process in which we learned to develop a “racial equity lens” through which to view our work. Once we complete the trainings, we will move to the next stage. In other words, we are preparing to cross the threshold into an implementation phase.

Let me reiterate that the training we chose to undertake involves very specifically the idea of developing a racial equity lens. It was not diversity and inclusion training that focused on an appreciation of different cultures and traditions. It was not cultural-competency training meant to prepare us to better work with different groups. Such trainings can be useful, but the leadership felt they were inadequate for moving forward with the larger work of dismantling systemic racism in higher education. We need our organization to develop and continually adjust a lens for racial equity. At this stage, we are like people trying out new glasses, and some of us are seeing things we hadn’t seen so well before. Next, we have to keep the glasses on and take a hard look at ourselves, our policies, our processes, and “business as usual.” To truly live up to our mission, we must intentionally and purposefully see all our work through this lens of racial equity and justice. Our next steps must reflect the range of purpose and depth of action that we now know are required to make a permanent cultural shift so that the AAUP becomes an organization that is committed to being antiracist in all aspects of its work. In my view, this requires us to go further and commit ourselves to being antiracist in all aspects of our lives.

Setting the tone and envisioning an antiracist culture starts at the top and should be informed by faculty of color, especially women of color. The experience of completing this training is fraught with difficulty for our colleagues who are Black, Indigenous, or other people of color (BIPOC), and I am grateful to the chair of our racial justice initiative for her skill in negotiating these challenges. I have learned that calling this “hard work” means different things to different people. I may think of hard work as involving heavy reading, writing, research, and deadlines. My BIPOC colleagues think of all that as well as the emotional toll it will take to be present while others learn about or even misunderstand the hard truths of racism that they experience on a daily basis. I am extremely grateful to the leaders and staff of color who are willing to show such commitment to these efforts. I vow to continue to show up and to speak up on behalf of racial justice as our process moves forward.

Higher education is an opener of minds, an engine of social mobility, a producer of knowledge and research, an employer, a community, and a partner to wider communities. As the organization that works to ensure higher education continues to be a public good that strengthens democracy, the AAUP is uniquely situated to help bend the moral arc toward justice.