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Community-Missive #9

Dear All,

For the past eight weeks I have been sending weekly corona-missives to the TCNJ community of faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and friends. Guided by student input over the past week, in this and following missives I broaden the scope to encompass community-wide matters of significance. Your input and responses are welcome.

Your Messages. Let me acknowledge at the outset that I am way behind on responding to your deeply appreciated correspondence and input of the past week. Beyond the continued input on coronavirus and fall 2020 planning, the overwhelming focus of your messages has been the murder of George Floyd, racial injustice, and how TCNJ can and will respond.

Your thoughts convey the very real pain, stress, trauma, exhaustion, and anger of racism, police brutality, and longstanding systemic racial bias in our social institutions, including employment, health care, banking, housing, criminal justice, and education. Such persistent and entrenched bias result in the disparities we see today between black and white wealth, homeownership, household income, unemployment, and educational achievement. Although TCNJ lacks the heft and scope to alone close these gaps, we have the agency and commitment to make our campus a fair, equitable, and inclusive place where every member is valued and dignified. This work is our mission and pledge.

Equity and Inclusion at TCNJ. The I Am TCNJ Forum held on campus in late 2018 raised the curtain on the nature and depth of racial challenges at TCNJ, a predominantly white institution. In its wake the college formed the Division of Equity and Inclusion (and since hired James Felton III as its first permanent vice president) and implemented important programming and initiatives. Work on racial and social justice infuses all corners and divisions of TCNJ, and we continue to build a range of efforts within our newest division. These include workshops, the Bias Response Team (now morphing to become a Bias Education and Support Team), Diversity Summit, Campus Pulse Survey, Accessibility Resource Center activities, speakers, events, and student programming. You can find information on these and other events through March 2020 on the division’s website.

In separate missives to come, Vice President Felton will communicate about engaging with these and other initiatives, including administration of the Intercultural Development Inventory (a tool for building intercultural competency and charting person growth), 2020 Election Dialogues, and development of a comprehensive Action Plan for Inclusive Excellence at TCNJ. Motivated also by your experience in recent protest actions locally and across the nation, the division will offer Activism Training/How to be an Activist, a series of webinars and workshops on what it means to be an activist, ways to maintain safety and self-care, and how to connect with local and national activist resources and organizations.

Campus Police Commitment. The College of New Jersey supports a campus police department to support and safeguard the campus community 24/7. Officers receive regular mandatory training in cultural diversity, crisis intervention, de-escalation, and bias crime reporting, including specific units on law enforcement and communities of underrepresented groups and those with special needs or mental health issues.

The images and presence of police violence and abuse of power anger citizens and police professionals as well. They also prompt a redoubling of our police department’s ongoing commitment to safety and justice for all on campus. With the permission of Chief Timothy Grant, I provide here a message he sent to all members of the campus police force this past Monday.  

The College of New Jersey Police Department is committed to professional policing that is fair, transparent, and free of bias. We must renew our commitment to building trust between law enforcement and the people we serve, especially those communities that have been historically underrepresented.

The death of George Floyd was a grave violation of the law perpetrated by officers ostensibly acting under their official authority to protect and serve their community. The TCNJ Police Department condemns their actions and any unjustified use of force, which are in themselves unlawful actions. Police misconduct is wrong at face value and causes severe damage to the overwhelming majority of officers who serve honorably and uphold the highest standard of our profession.

The campus community is assured that the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, the Prosecutor of Mercer County, and every member of The College of New Jersey Police Department stand in solidarity and will not tolerate any form of police misconduct. We are committed to ensuring justice and accountability for every community member. The campus community is dependent on the vigilance of our department to provide safety even when, and perhaps especially, when relationships are strained. It is our steadfast dedication to duty during these trying times that will be the true measure of our courage.

Please reach out directly to Chief Grant to arrange conversations and workshops that help us remain aware of campus safety needs and accountable to our enduring values of police equity and community cooperation.

Self-Education on Race. A number of you wrote recommending resources for members of the campus community to self-educate around issues of race and racism. I commit to summer study of those I have not yet read on the list below. Please join me in the effort to learn. Imagine the positive impact on our campus culture and intercultural competency were we all to return to campus informed and ready to discuss. These are readily available online in hardcopy or audiobook format.

Ta-Nehisi Coates. 2015. Between the World and Me (New York: One World)

Robin DiAngelo. 2018. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Boston: Beacon Press)

Ibram X. Kendi. 2019. How to be an Antiracist (New York: One World)

Ibram X. Kendi. 2016. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (New York: Nations Books)

Eddie Moore, Jr., Marguerite W. Penick-Parks, and Ali Michael, eds. 2015. Everyday White People Confront Racial and Social Injustice: 15 Stories (Sterling, Virginia: Stylus)

Lawrence Ross. 2016. Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses (New York: St. Martin’s Press)

And if you have not yet availed yourself of the readings and resources of “The 1619 Project,” the stunning series from The New York Times, please consider spending time with it.

I Am TCNJ: A Docu-story. Among the disruptions caused by the coronavirus was the cancellation of numerous events and gatherings planned to educate, enlighten, and challenge us on issues of equity, inclusion, and social justice. One of these was the premiere at the April Diversity Summit of one chapter of “I Am TCNJ: A Docu-Story Project.” This ongoing video project was organized by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, with funding and technical support from the Division of Student Affairs. A collaborative effort of faculty, staff, and students from across TCNJ, the compilation features TCNJ students speaking compellingly and movingly on race, stereotypes, bias, identity, and related topics. This segment suggests the power of the offering. Other chapters and a resource guide will be posted as they are developed to a dedicated website for use in and out of the classroom. Praise and thanks especially to director Lorna Johnson-Frizell, editor Genevieve Faust, executive producer Sean Stallings, co-producers Brenda Leake, Donald Leake, and Amy Moyer, and associate producer Ana Gutierrez.

Campus Pulse Survey. Many of you participated in a campus climate survey this past fall, an effort that generated helpful data to understand the nature and variability of how campus members experience TCNJ. The Campus Pulse webpage will go live next week on the Division of Equity and Inclusion website. The displays will include executive summaries of findings from the student and employee surveys followed when they are ready with data tables and Tableau graphics detailing the data. In the fall, the division will provide opportunities for dialogue around the findings plus formulation of an action plan to address what we have learned.

Anti-Racism Initiative. Upon my arrival at TCNJ, several faculty members approached me about racial issues at TCNJ and the idea of establishing an Anti-Racism Initiative. One model for this would be TCNJ’s award-winning Anti-Violence Initiative, through which students and staff educate, advocate, and support campus members on sexual violence. The idea of an Anti-Racism Initiative sat in abeyance until recently and in our Monday message, Vice President Felton and I announced its establishment (there using the label Anti-Hate Initiative). We invite your ideas and engagement to help flesh it out for inauguration in the fall.

Equity Audit. The codification of systemic racial bias in the United States goes back to the nation’s founding documents and has manifested in enumerable codes, laws, and policies before and since. How do the policies of TCNJ fare when examined through the lens of diversity and social justice? Furthermore, how do our public artwork and displays signal our commitment to inclusion? The Committee on Student and Campus Community (CSCC) is completing work carried out over the past year to examine the Student Conduct Code to ensure appropriate language on inclusion and bias-related incidents involving members of protected classes. The Campus Diversity Council (CDC), whose membership includes faculty, staff, and students, has informally discussed undertaking a broader equity audit of campus policies and procedures. I have asked the Division of Equity and Inclusion to work with the CDC and relevant campus governance bodies to support such an audit to begin in the fall.

I will return next week with more on the important topics of race and diversity and the state’s guidance on restarting economic and campus activity. Know in the meantime that your input helps to shape these missives. Know, too, that your activism has mattered in the past and matters now more than ever to advance TCNJ.

With resolve and appreciation,

Kathryn A. Foster