AUSTIN, Texas—In a wide-ranging report that focused on creating new opportunities to build understanding among students, faculty and staff at The University of Texas at Austin, the university’s Task Force on Racial Respect and Fairness has recommended the creation of a “vice president for diversity and equity” position, new programs and initiatives to enhance relationships between students and university police, and renewed emphasis on the recruitment of underrepresented students, faculty and staff.
“Our group found that one of the fundamental problems is that people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds don’t understand each other. These recommendations are aimed at increasing opportunities for all of us to understand each other better,” said task force chairwoman Darlene Grant, associate dean of graduate studies and professor of social work. “The approach is to integrate racial respect and fairness throughout the UT community rather than just providing stop-gap measures when issues arise.”
The 15-member Task Force on Racial Respect and Fairness, consisting of students, faculty and staff members, was convened in March 2003 by Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin. The group, which completed its deliberations in the fall 2003 semester, said in its report that broad issues need to be addressed by the university if it is to succeed in transforming the university’s culture to one of racial respect and fairness, civility and inclusiveness.
As part of the president’s charge, the task force was asked to review procedures of the university’s police department and examine the cross-cultural educational programs available to the university’s police officers, examine the university’s ability to exert greater influence over behavioral standards of student organizations and examine the effectiveness with which the university conveys the diversity (the “face”) of the student population to the outside world.
Faulkner also gave the task force permission to address any issues it deemed important to promoting racial respect and cultural diversity within the university community. The task force extended its focus based on a broader definition of diversity to include gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, and physical and mental ability.
The task force report included the development of four overarching goals:
- Widely articulate the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. Ideas aimed at addressing this goal include a recommendation to create the position of “vice president for diversity and equity” whose role would be to promote and enhance diversity and inclusiveness throughout the university.
- Implement structural and institutional mechanisms for interpersonal and cultural change. This goal calls for creation of a comprehensive “honor code” that addresses interpersonal as well as academic behavior. It would recognize Greek and other student organizations that endorse and abide by the proposed “honor code” and demonstrate their commitment to diversity. It also would encourage entering students to postpone pledging to Greek organizations until the end of their freshman year to allow them an opportunity to develop a broader range of experiences and contacts that may otherwise be limited by their participation in fraternities or sororities. The task force also advocated curricular changes, including development of a required course on “a non-U.S. culture, a sub-national ethno-racial culture of the U.S. or a course that explores issues related to gender, race and class.”
- Increase recruitment, retention and advancement of historically underrepresented students, faculty and staff. The report notes it is important that initiatives be put into place to retain and successfully advance students, faculty and staff of color within the university. Initiatives include a proposal to establish a committee to investigate possibilities for increasing the recruitment and retention of faculty and administrative staff from historically underrepresented groups within the legal parameters defined by the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Increase the University of Texas Police Department’s skill in negotiating diversity and inclusion issues. The report said the police chief and his representatives should emphasize often and unequivocally the department’s commitment to racial respect and fairness. It also recommended that the department include “diversity and inclusiveness” as an individual core value of the department’s mission statement. Another recommendation is that the police department’s definition of “racial profiling” be reviewed, as well as the steps the department is taking to eradicate such practices.
The report said there is growing evidence of a willingness at The University of Texas at Austin to enhance racial respect and fairness but more must be done to achieve sustained change. While calling for changes to enhance racial respect and fairness, the task force members acknowledged some positive actions already taken by the university. These included: Faulkner’s emphasis on the importance of diversity during his State of the University Address last fall, Faulkner’s appointment of a Police Oversight Committee, plans for a 2004 Diversity Summit (Jan. 29-30) at The University of Texas at Austin involving presidents from universities across the country and several other initiatives.
“The task force has worked extremely hard to provide our community with serious advice about serious issues,” Faulkner said. “I am proud of their commitment and am most grateful for their effort. Now I will proceed to gather comments for about 45 days from the university community at large, and will then move to develop a specific plan of action. There is important work to be done.”
The student members of the task force include A. Richard Garcia, R.B. “Rusty” Ince, C.M. “Cookie” Peterson, M.S. “Mandy” Price, Kevin M. Robnett and Rosalinda Ruiz.
Other faculty and staff members of the university’s Task Force on Racial Respect and Fairness include: Lorraine E. Branham, director of the School of Journalism; Philemon Brown, senior program coordinator with the Division of Housing and Food Services; Neil Foley, professor of history; E.T. “Ted” Gordon, director of the Center for African and African-American Studies; Linda H. Millstone, deputy to the vice president, Equal Opportunity Services; and Associate Professor Pat Wong, LBJ School of Public Affairs. Staff support for the task force was provided by student Charles Forkey and Nancy J. McCowen, executive assistant to the president.
Download the complete Report of the Task Force on Racial Respect and Fairness (PDF file, 277KB, download Adobe Reader).