President-elect Mary Dana Hinton shared the following message with Hollins University students, faculty, and staff on June 19:
Dear Hollins Community,
When we were together during my visit in February, none of us could have imagined the events of this moment. We are now planning for the resumption of college in the fall under the constraints of COVID-19, and each of us also has been called to use our voice to actively work towards justice and equity. I am grateful for President Gray’s support and counsel as I have worked with her and university leadership to navigate reopening and our inclusion efforts.
I have spent the past few weeks having difficult and, often, inspiring conversations with my family, with students I have the privilege of serving, and with members of the Hollins community. I have heard the hurt, concern, anger, and disappointment many of us feel. I have also heard the belief in our mission, the desire to do the work of transformational inclusion, the love for Hollins, and the choice to be and do better. It is with a spirit of hopeful action and a deep sense of honor for the Hollins mission and community that I write to you today.
Like all institutions across the United States, we must do the important work of facilitating and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, Hollins University has a special obligation in this moment as it relates to dismantling systemic racism. At Hollins our call must not only be in reaction to recent events, but also to reconcile our institutional past with enslavement; to ensure all of our students – including the voices and concerns of students of color – are heard, seen, and valued, and feel safe on campus today; to create an environment of inclusive excellence that supports rigorous teaching and learning in the liberal arts tradition; and to develop a plan that guides our efforts to be an inclusive community. We must be accountable for equity regardless of what is happening in the world around us.
As a leader, I recognize that in the moment it is easy to react, to send out statements, and to develop plans that sit on a shelf. What we are compelled to do at Hollins University, however, is engage significant cultural change that demands far more from me, and each of us, than merely reacting. As a learning institution, we must grapple with these issues individually and collectively.
As President-elect, I have already learned that we need to reconsider building names and continue to reconcile our institutional history. I have heard students reference feeling at risk on campus and in the classroom. I know that faculty, staff, and administrators must do the work of inclusion education and professional development. The responsibility of explaining why Black lives matter, and what that requires of the community, should not fall disproportionately on community members of color. We need a committed effort to diversify our faculty and staff, and to ensure all community stakeholders have engaged in anti-racist training. I also know these items are just a beginning. The dismantling of systemic injustice also means the building of just, equitable systems. The work must be done with both urgency and deliberate process.
All of us must do the work. All of us must begin now.
I am asking that, as we navigate this critical moment for our world, our country, and our campus, we dig deeper and not only react but commit to substantive, transformative change for the campus. I implore us to look at our culture, programs, policies, and practices to determine how we can transform the institution to ensure we are always working in an equitable and just manner. I am pushing myself, and asking each of you to commit alongside me, to do the transformative work of culture-change and inclusion – which will be long, hard, and uncomfortable. Lasting, meaningful cultural change cannot be done overnight. However, this cultural shift will ensure we stand firmly by our liberal arts mission and our humane values as we put equity and inclusion at the forefront.
To that end, I will be hosting town hall meetings beginning in July for faculty, staff, students, and alumnae. These will be critically important moments as I continue to learn about Hollins’ history, as we acknowledge the challenges of our present, and as we begin to envision a pathway of action towards a shared, aspirational, and inclusive future. Out of these meetings will come deliberate, impactful action, starting now.
Over the next several weeks, in preparation for those town hall meetings, I will be in dialogue with many groups on campus including, but not limited to:
These groups and individuals, as well as others, have been working on issues of diversity and inclusion, and I look forward to learning from and with them as we develop a process for transformation.
Critical to this moment is ensuring we have a public timeline and accountability structure. At this moment I anticipate that we will:
- Identify campus concerns and outline the plan of action (summer/fall)
- Engage/Implement solutions (fall):
- In addition to addressing and acting on what is learned during the summer, a guiding vision will be developed and coordinated activity begun
- Assessment (ongoing)
- Inclusion audit completed and report to the community (December 2020)
While this timeline is subject to change as this intentionally dynamic process unfolds, I commit to updating the community regularly about our direction, significant learnings, and the action steps we are taking to develop an inclusive culture.
Even as I learn more about Hollins each day, I continue to hold close what first drew me to this institution and presidency: the mission, values, and integrity of the Hollins University community. What compels me daily, and affirms my desire to partner with each of you, is the vibrant future I know we have ahead of us.
The road we must tread together will not be easy. But as we commemorate Juneteenth this week, it has never been more fitting or more important that we commit ourselves now to working collaboratively, to being vulnerable to and with one another, to learning and leading, and to privileging hope over fear. I have every confidence we will do this work with excellence and become a stronger community because of it.