Drexel University stands with a nation rising in anger at the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black individuals. The protests and demonstrations in Philadelphia and nationwide speak to the anger, pain, frustration, and fear felt in the Black community and increasingly understood by Americans of all races. I share in the calls for action: for a serious dialogue about systemic racism, a full accounting of the way institutional racism has affected all aspects of our society, and a clear action agenda that begins to change both policy and practice across this country. 

Anthony J. Drexel founded our institution with the vision of educating students with no restrictions on religion, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. More than 125 years later, it is necessary to ask if Drexel University is living up to these ideals. I have heard from many of you in the past two weeks, and the answer is a resounding no. Members of the Drexel community are demanding accountability in addressing racism at all levels of our University. I hear this and I agree: We must take the steps necessary to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, faculty, professional staff and alumni and eliminate racism in our structures and practices.

One week ago, the University hosted a virtual campus-wide dialogue about racism.  I have heard both praise for its intentions and criticism of its limitations. While more than 700 people across Drexel participated, we only scratched the surface of what needs to be discussed.  In the past week, in every corner of the Drexel community, we have seen dialogues, town halls, petitions, letters and a shared sense of urgency to do more. We hear your testimonies filled with pain and frustration, and we hear your call for action. For Drexel, as is true for the nation as a whole, it is time to look in the mirror and challenge ourselves to do more.

First and foremost: I know we have work to do. We need to create a structure to bring your ideas and solutions forward, so we can together craft an action agenda that will be our playbook for the years ahead.  To achieve that, effective immediately, Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Kim Gholston will report directly to me. Kim will participate in all senior leadership team meetings and the Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee, and will continue to serve on the cabinet and the University’s Executive Council.  In this role, Kim will continue to provide leadership across all levels of the University around diversity and inclusion, and she will ensure that this work is reflected in our policies and procedures.  But she cannot do this work alone.

Anti-Racism Task Force

In the next week, I will appoint a university-wide task force to look at our practices across the entire University, both how we can more effectively support the Black community at Drexel and how we can eradicate racism in our policies and practices.  This work will include recommendations for faculty and staff hiring, promotion and retention, curriculum review, campus-wide learnings, and resource allocation.  The task force will have membership across the University, including students, faculty, and professional staff.  We welcome our trustees and alumni to join us in this self-examination.

The work of the task force will include responding to the thoughtful suggestions and concerns that I have received from members of the Drexel community.  Letters from our undergraduate students and the doctoral students in the Dornsife School of Public Health have offered good and timely recommendations.  A coalition of faculty, professional staff, students and alumni provided particularly useful direction.  And a letter to Drexel’s leadership from Black colleagues at the University laid out important lessons that we — particularly, white administrators — need to hear.  I pledge that all of these issues will be addressed by the task force. 

Independent Drexel Police Review

Concurrent with this, I am commissioning an independent review of the Drexel University Police Department by the former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.  Our Drexel police officers and dispatchers are a trusted and respected resource devoted to the safety of the Drexel campus and nearby neighborhoods, and our communication division and police are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. At the same time, we appreciate the sensitivity around policing and the importance of a transparent review and open dialogue with the Drexel Department of Public Safety and our community. I believe Commissioner Ramsey will help support that dialogue.  He brings decades of experience not only in law enforcement, serving as police commissioner in Washington, DC, prior to coming to Philadelphia, but also as a leading voice in the national dialogue on community policing.  In 2014, Commissioner Ramsey led President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force, which focused on increasing trust and partnership between law enforcement and communities. He has undertaken similar reviews for other leading universities. Commissioner Ramsey’s involvement will ensure that there is an expert, unbiased and independent assessment of all aspects of policing on Drexel’s campus.

New Center for Black Culture

I have heard from many of our Black students a sense of frustration that they are not fully comfortable on our campus.  As a first effort to address this, I am calling for the creation of a Center for Black Culture at Drexel.  This new center will serve as a hub of information, activity, and community for the entire campus and will seek to increase knowledge of the peoples, histories, and cultures of the African diaspora and its many contributions to the world.  Programs and services offered through the Center for Black Culture will be open to all Drexel students, faculty, professional staff and alumni who want to engage with and gain a greater understanding of the Black experience.  It will be a partner resource to the Student Center for Diversity and Inclusion.  Kim Gholston and Senior Vice President for Student Success Subir Sahu will provide co-leadership of the space, and they will be guided by an advisory board with broad representation from the campus community.  In particular, we will seek leaders among our Black students, faculty and professional staff to be part of the visioning and leadership as this new center moves forward.  We will convene a group this summer to begin working on all aspects of opening up the center, including establishing a connection to academic programs of study.  I look forward to sharing more about the Center for Black Culture over the next few weeks and months.

Boosting Support for Local Businesses

Finally, as part of our engagement in West Philadelphia, I am reaffirming our support of the local business community — and especially minority-owned businesses — during this difficult time.  Drexel has long mentored local businesses and brought them into our procurement operations.  To that end, through the leadership of Allen Riddick, director of Supplier Inclusion, we redoubled our efforts to address their challenges during the COVID crisis.  During the recent unrest, many businesses along West Philadelphia commercial corridors — 52nd Street, Lancaster Avenue, City Line Avenue, 60th Street— were seriously damaged, and Allen and his team have stepped in to develop a broad strategy to provide support.  We know we must do even more.  Allen and Julie Jones, associate vice president for Accounts Payable and Procurement Services, will work closely with all of our institutional purchasing to focus our procurement needs as much as possible on the local business community.

I know this is just a start, but it is clear that our community wants to see some early and tangible action that precedes the more significant, systemic changes to come. The hard work comes now, as the Drexel community joins together to create a shared vision and agenda.  Identifying and addressing institutional racism and providing greater support to our Black community members is a process that requires honest dialogue, collaboration, and a clear assessment of current campus conditions.  I am deeply committed to this, and I ask for your partnership and your engagement as we turn conversations into action.