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African American Male Presidents at PWIs Start Tenures Amid Black Lives Matter Flashpoint

Drs. Darryll J. Pines, Jonathan Holloway and Gregory Washington, three Black leaders in higher education, now face the challenge of beginning their presidencies at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) during a time of two crises: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and protests over racial injustice in the United States.

Holloway, president of Rutgers University, described this period of time as “mind-bending” but remains optimistic. 

Dr. Darryll J. PinesDr. Darryll J. Pines

“No one’s written a playbook for this coming into the situation,” he said. “For me, I think this is a very special moment in higher education, especially as it relates to all the dynamics related to the inequities that this has exposed, whether it’s through health issues or racial issues or socio-economic issues. Now, we have a chance to actually do a much better job educating our respective communities about how we got to this kind of moment and what we can do on the other side of it.”

Especially at a PWI, Holloway emphasizes the importance of not maintaining “institutional innocence” by recognizing that “systemic racism as a phenomenon exists.” Additionally, he stresses the importance of understanding the past to ensure mistakes are not repeated.  

“You start with a moment of recognition that an institution like Rutgers has benefited significantly through the structural inequities that are woven into the fabric of what we call the United States and the people who have attended here,” he adds. “That recognition is different than assigning blame. I am less interested in assigning blame because that feels like we are going to get stuck in a cycle of accusation. We are in this moment; what are we going to do now?” 

As part of his visions for the fall semester, the current pandemic is driving his goals in terms of ensuring the safety of the university community as well as rebuilding Rutgers financially.  

“We’ve got to do everything we can to maintain a healthy and safe environment where our faculty, staff and students are healthy and safe,” says Holloway. “And I mean, if we can’t do that, then my goals are kind of irrelevant.” 

To help with the financial aspect, Holloway announced that he would take a 10% pay cut, according to the university. 

He also wants to ensure that awareness is brought to inequities at the institutional level by ensuring that the students with the most “fragile financial backgrounds” have access to all the resources needed to continue their education at Rutgers. 

Holloway personally donated $75,000 to the Scarlet Promise Grants program, which supports the most economically at-risk students. He also plans to direct $125,000 in presidential discretionary funds to launch a $10 million focused campaign for the program, Rutgers reported. 

Internally, Holloway initiated an equity audit to analyze the institution and gauge what is needed moving forward. He also aims to diversify   faculty. 

Holloway says he’s not concerned about issues stemming from potential Black Lives Matter protests in the fall as long as students abide by university policies around gathering spaces and remain peaceful.

The view at GMU 

In his first weeks, Washington, president of George Mason University (GMU), developed the President’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence focused on the areas of curriculum and pedagogy, campus and community engagement, university policies and practices, training and development, and research, according to his letter to the university.  

Dr. Gregory WashingtonDr. Gregory Washington

“The recommendations that we act upon will be incorporated into the university’s planning and budgeting process to ensure they have the priority and resources to take root and flourish,” he says in a statement. “I am not interested in reports that sit on a shelf, only to collect dust.”  

Within the curriculum, an anti-racism statement will be required in all syllabi and there will be mandatory diversity, inclusion and well-being coursework in the classroom. 

To address racial healing and trauma, there will be increased resource and counseling support for faculty, students and staff.

In terms of policing, in Virginia, anti-racism training is required for all law enforcement officers. However, Washington plans to create a Police Advisory Board as a way to monitor police activity and receive report findings.  

“My vision is nothing short of establishing George Mason University as a national exemplar of anti-racism and inclusive excellence in action,” he says in a statement. “Given the considerable head start we have on most of our sister institutions in the United States, this is a vision we can realize.”

Change at UMD

In his welcome letter to the University of Maryland community, Pines laid out 12 recommendations and initiatives to focus on improving the student experience, creating an inclusive environment and advancing the institution as a whole. 

To understand the needs of the community, Pines and other administrators communicated with faculty and the student-run advocacy group Black Terps Matter. 

“I realized that these two pandemics were affecting our community in a negative way and that it was important that I signal to our community at the University of Maryland, broadly to the Black Lives Matter movement in our nation and then specifically to a localized Black Terps matter movement here at College Park, that let’s focus on what needs to be done,” he says.

Dr. Jonathan HollowayDr. Jonathan Holloway

Under his initiatives, Pines recommended that the number of staff be increased for mental health services, given the growing demand and need to assist underrepresented communities. 

“They’re going through a lot of stress related to education, family work-life balance, other issues in their lives and the level of uncertainty that they’re living with,” he adds. 

Pines aims to increase overall philanthropic support for students in the areas of access, diversity and inclusion. An endowment through the Maryland Promise Program will be launched to financially assist undergraduate students from underserved communities within the state and the District of Columbia. 

As part of establishing a more inclusive environment, the TerrapinSTRONG onboarding program was created for new undergraduate students, staff and faculty to undergo hate bias training, sexual harassment training and learn the overall mission of UMD.  

“The whole idea is to make every citizen that comes to the University of Maryland more aware and more respectful,” says Pines. “And then sort of embrace our culture, our values and our traditions such that every person can realize their full potential at the University of Maryland.”

Over the summer and fall semester, the Joint President/Senate Inclusion & Respect Task Force at UMD will work towards implementing race, gender and sexual orientation conversations into the curriculum. Pines also aims to increase student, staff and faculty    diversity.  

Over the summer and fall semester, the Joint President and University Senate Diversity and Respect Task Force will work towards implementing race, gender and sexual orientation conversations into the curriculum. Pines also aims to increase student, staff and faculty diversity. 

Another initiative focused on examining racial profiling and bias in community policing as well as the     policies surrounding the use of force such as choke holds. Additionally, after receiving student recommendations around demilitarizing campus police, UMD decided to end its participation in the federal government’s 1033 Program when it comes to equipping campus police. The 1033 Program allows law enforcement agencies to purchase military equipment at a lower cost.

Pines says the Black Lives Matter Movement, which aims to address anti-Black racism, systemic racism and police brutality, is a call to action. 

“I think the horrific images of Mr. George Floyd served as an enormous wakeup call that these systemic issues that are still in our U.S. society must be removed and removed as soon as possible for us to be a better community and for the United States to be a better country,” he says.   

This article originally appeared in the August 20, 2020 edition of Diverse. You can find it here.

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