June 09, 2020

Letter from President Wiewel, June 9

In response to a message we sent about the murder of George Floyd, I received many replies. Some were appreciative, others were critical…

Dear Lewis & Clark Community,

In response to a message we sent last week from Executive Council about the murder of George Floyd, I received many replies from students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Some were appreciative, others were critical. I heard stories of racism and microaggressions experienced on our own campus and in the wider world. And I heard calls to do better: exhortations to an institution committed to the global good.

I am deeply sad and angry about the treatment of Black people and other people of color at the hands of police in this country, as well as the systemic and structural racial inequality of society at large. Black lives matter, not just here and now, but everywhere and always.

I first arrived in New York as an exchange student in 1968, another critical time of civic uprising for racial justice. More than 50 years later, much has changed, but not nearly as much as we hoped in those heady days. Today I am inspired by the scope and duration of the protests here in Portland and in cities around the world. The protests abroad, like in my native Amsterdam, aren’t about pointing fingers at the United States alone, but call for addressing the deep divisions and racism that exist nearly everywhere.

So what is to be done? What is our responsibility as a higher education institution at this pivotal time?

As the president, I have the responsibility to lead, but I need the knowledge and insights of this community to help achieve the answers and solutions. I am calling for a deep, institution-wide effort to identify and address the sources and practices of racial inequality at Lewis & Clark.

We are not starting from scratch. We can build on the many things that have already been done or are underway. Campus protests in the fall of 2015 gave voice to demands that spurred action, including the appointment of our first Dean of Diversity and Inclusion; the development and implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan by the Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; mandatory training for faculty and staff search committees on recognizing and undoing implicit bias; and the hiring of faculty of color for five of the last six tenure-track positions filled.

We need to do more. Starting immediately, we will:

  • Allocate additional funding from the President’s Discretionary Fund to (1) expand training for staff and faculty and (2) expand recruitment of Black and other students of color.

  • Seek additional scholarship funds to help enhance the diversity of the campus.

  • Allocate additional institutional and philanthropic funds to these and other initiatives.

  • Address classrooms where students experience marginalization, microaggressions, or intolerance with dialogue and training for faculty and staff to ensure an equitable learning environment.

  • Work with faculty on a more inclusive curriculum that engages the experience of the diverse community of students.

  • Support initiatives in all three schools, including the law school’s plans to partner with other law schools nationwide to establish a center and clinic on police accountability.

  • Provide more opportunities for faculty to share research related to diversity, equity, and antiracist advocacy.

  • Provide incentive funding for faculty to partner with communities of color to address their areas of need through teaching and research projects in Portland and elsewhere.

  • Increase campus events, workshops, speakers, and opportunities for engagement on issues related to equity, inclusion, and antiracism.

  • In addition, I am asking Dean of Equity and Inclusion Mark Figueroa, with the full support of the Executive Council, to lead a campaign with the Committee on Equity and Inclusion to identify other priorities through a broad campus-wide process. The Executive Council will be responsible for aggressive implementation of specific action items, subject to our shared governance policies. I will also work closely with the Board of Trustees to ensure their support.

The liberal arts, and the professions grounded in them in our School of Law and Graduate School of Education and Counseling, are based on a deep belief in the potential of human nature for the good. Allowing people to pursue knowledge to improve not just their own lives, but those of others: This is the promise and mission of Lewis & Clark College.

In addition to our collective work, as individuals we can support organizations, causes, and candidates who are fighting racism and white supremacy. We can protest, we can donate money, we can be engaged with our friends and families and our classmates and colleagues, and we can vote!

I have faith in our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and supporters that together we can and must do better, that we can and must come together. We will acknowledge and honor differences, while understanding the inequities that exist and the harm that has been done. Working together, we explore for the global good. This is what motivates me, and I hope it inspires you as well.


Wim Wiewel