Posted: June 4, 2020 8:58 a.m.
Last weekend, President Cabrera and I discussed at length the horrific events that have occurred in the black community in the U.S. in recent weeks. The statement the president released Sunday about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbury in Brunswick, Georgia, inspired me. I admire his passion for speaking the truth: racism must be met with action, not just talk.
In recent weeks, my emotions as a black man in this country have included angst, anger, pain, fear, and even rage. I am also aware that many others in our communities have shared similar emotions about recent events. Throughout my professional career, I have provided leadership to ameliorate conditions in higher education that are the result of a long history of racial divisiveness. My lifelong passion has been to open doors for those who cannot open doors for themselves, much like what was done for me as a first-generation college student from a family whose parents were not able to complete high school.
As a black man with a doctoral degree and years of demonstrated effectiveness in my chosen profession, I am not exempt from slights and profiling, where some fear me simply because I am a black man. Yet, I yearn to not be fatalistic about our future and I hold on to the hope that the day will soon come when we as a society will get it right, and black men like me will be able to jog in our neighborhoods and walk down our streets free from fear and violence.
I am fortunate to be able to channel my energy into effecting change in my position as vice president and chief diversity officer at Georgia Tech. I have been active within the Institute’s strategic plan steering committee, and we have included a new value and belief statement in the final plan. The statement, “We thrive on diversity,” cements in writing the Institute’s commitment to do better. It focuses on seeing the diversity of ethnicities, backgrounds, and perspectives as essential to learning, discovery, and understanding. It is also about striving to remove barriers of access and to build an inclusive community where people from all walks of life have the opportunity to learn and contribute to our mission.
We will use that statement to set meaningful and measurable goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Georgia Tech. We already have a working group of faculty, staff, and students dedicated to the theme of diversity and our work will be guided by the kind of compassion and mindfulness we’ve witnessed in response to recent devastating events.
I am proud of the progress we’ve made since I was hired nearly a decade ago to build the Institute’s first campuswide diversity office: designing and implementing implicit bias training for faculty and staff; strengthening the experience of our black students through implementing the recommendations of the Black Student Task Force; and recognizing the accomplishments of our African American and black communities through campus statues, honors, ceremonies, and recognitions that have drawn well-deserved attention to their contributions. There is much work still to do. And in the harsh light of recent events, I am profoundly aware that is an understatement.
To start, we have set goals for the upcoming academic year including the addition of regular intercultural listening and idea sessions, the development of educational workshops that will enable our community to embrace the Institute’s vast diversity, and increasing access to a Georgia Tech degree and graduation rates for students from every background. We will intentionally and consistently work with our regional and national partners to use the power of numbers and thought leadership to drive meaningful change. As past president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, I will use my network of diversity professionals to share best practices in creating more inclusive and welcoming campus communities.
I believe that coming to terms with our present reality is our only real hope for a truly equitable America – an America in which (to quote Martin Luther King Jr.) my young son will be judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. I pledge to do all I can to make sure the Office of Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion uses that lens to create change. We are committed to the work of increasing understanding and respect through proudly proclaiming our actions, values, and beliefs. I hope you will join us.
Archie W. Ervin, Ph.D.