Rice announces plans to improve diversity, equity and inclusivity on campus, in community

President David Leebron and Provost Reginald DesRoches sent the following letter to the Rice community June 16:

We have each written recently of the impact of the murder of George Floyd on our community, the university and American society at large. In our communications, we stressed the need for university participation in the response, both in improving our own institution and in making a contribution to solutions more broadly.

Today we write with some initial actions. These are a beginning. We need to undertake a broader campus conversation around these issues. We have started those conversations, will do more over this summer and continue to do so in the fall.

We are announcing today five specific actions.

First, we are creating the new position of Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This position, occupied by a tenured member of the faculty, will report directly to the provost, provide high-level strategic leadership around diversity initiatives and coordinate multiple diversity offices across the campus to help create one point of responsibility for all programs and efforts around diversity. This will include overseeing the design and development of a new Multicultural Center (MCC), to be included in the new student center now in the planning phase. Since the new student center will be built on the same location as the existing student center, this summer we have been renovating the former magister’s house most recently occupied by Housing and Dining so it can serve, starting this fall, as a temporary home for the MCC until the new student center opens.

Second, we will establish a course on diversity and cultural understanding as part of the required orientation of students at Rice. There is not adequate time before the fall semester to fully design and implement this program, and broader consultation is necessary to establish the approach and the content. However, because of the importance of this instruction and our desire to provide some scaffolding for the course to come, we will work with our faculty to implement a pilot program for this coming fall. While it will be simpler and delivered on a larger scale, we expect to learn much from this effort that will be helpful as we plan for the permanent course to be instituted in the fall of 2021. Following a similar timeline, we will also develop a required diversity training program for faculty and staff.

Third, we are initiating a student fund under the Center for Civic Leadership in the office of the Dean of Undergraduates to support nonpartisan student engagement in the city of Houston on issues of racial equity and justice, particularly in the fields of criminal justice, voting, education and health care. More guidance on the availability and process for requesting funding will be provided in the fall.

Fourth, the Provost and Vice Provost for Research will shortly announce a new research fund, the Race and Anti-Racism Research Fund, open to all faculty to help achieve our goals of creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive university, city and country.

Fifth, we are creating the position of Scholar in Residence for Racial Justice. This position will be responsible for creating campus conversations around racial diversity, and in particular the challenges facing underrepresented minorities. We expect to announce the first person to occupy this position in the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, we are formulating the committees and other structures than can help advise the university on the best measures as we move forward to become a more diverse, equitable and inclusive institution. These will involve faculty, staff, students and alumni.

We are grateful to all who provided many constructive suggestions over the last two weeks, as well as the many conversations and contributions of faculty, staff and students who have previously brought increased attention to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion at Rice and in our broader society. We look forward to further conversations to help inform additional actions.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is a senior editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.