On Thursday, April 15, members of the Equity Task Force shared with the campus community their forward-thinking and robust recommendations to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at CU Denver. Their thoughtful roadmap, which details funding commitments to invest in and sustain DEI work at the university, received full support from Chancellor Michelle Marks.
“You’ve laid out a solid, clear path to becoming an exemplar equity-serving institution into our future, and I’m so grateful for your leadership of this monumental effort,” Marks said to task force co-chairs Antwan Jefferson, PhD, associate clinical professor in the School of Education and Human Development, and John Ronquillo, PhD, assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs.
CU Denver’s new Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Antonio Farias, kicked off the virtual discussion with candid remarks on current events, as the nation watches the Derek Chauvin murder trial unfold and mourns another tragic killing of a Black man, Daunte Wright, shot by police in the Minneapolis region. “It is fitting that we come together today to listen with open hearts, to the diverse voices that have worked relentlessly to deliver the Equity Task Force Report, a roadmap for transformation and the creation of a more just CU Denver,” Farias said.
Marks echoed the sentiment, reflecting on the difficulties of the past year and recognizing the hard work that the Equity Task Force completed in just over six months. “Events over the past year reinforce the fact that social transformation does not take place overnight, but is the product of generations of struggle and sustained commitment,” Marks said, adding, “This is a starting point—a great starting point—and I am so optimistic that we are on a good and productive path.”
About the Equity Task Force
When Marks started her role as chancellor in July 2020, she learned of frustration at CU Denver with the lack of action on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. So, she spent her first 10 days in listening sessions, hearing from students, faculty, and staff on matters specific to equity and racial justice.
From the feedback, Marks committed to a number of short-term and long-term actions, including the appointment of the first-ever chancellor’s faculty fellow, the establishment of the Auraria Campus Police Dept. Community Advisory Board, and the search for CU Denver’s next vice chancellor for DEI.
Last October, Marks announced CU Denver’s inaugural Equity Task Force, charged with working over the following six months to dive into CU Denver’s core challenges, including structural barriers to hiring and promoting underrepresented faculty and staff.
Comprised of a core group of 17 students, faculty, and staff, the task force quickly sent a call-out to the campus community for volunteers to join six action teams—three focusing on policy, data, and best practices related to DEI, and the other three focusing on people, curriculum, and the environment. More than 100 students, faculty, and staff from across all schools, colleges, and units responded and hit the ground running.
Jefferson said of the mission of the task force: “The Equity Task Force was asked to identify recommendations to the university that would help us achieve justice, that would help us be inclusive, that would represent the brilliant and broad diversity of the university, and that would prioritize equity.”
Roadmap Outlines Timeline for Resources and Funding
One key question submitted by an attendee set the stage for the Equity Task Force’s virtual discussion: How exactly do we define equity? “Equity is both a mindset and a destination earmarked —without the former, we can’t reach the latter,” Farias said before introducing the panelists and task force co-chairs. “Equity is a data driven accounting for differences in individual and group attributes and experiences in the educational and work environment for the purposes of achieving equal outcomes.”
To support and sustain equity at CU Denver, the task force formed three overarching goals:
- Redefine Success: CU Denver’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion prioritizes, informs, and incentivizes the evaluation and definition of student, faculty, and staff success. By empowering our inclusive excellence, we unlock the potential for everyone to succeed.
- Share Responsibility: CU Denver’s faculty, staff, and students share the responsibility for creating and sustaining a just, safe, and inclusive campus, workplace, and community. Sharing the responsibility lessens the burdens of those harmed by social inequity, promotes a spirit of solidarity, and engages the entire community to ensure transformative justice.
- Develop Systems: Develop, use, and continuously improve systems that value relationships, create community, and actively support and serve people of historically
To accomplish these goals, the task force proposed funding $4 million in new resources over the next three years. Of these funds, $1 million will come from a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Innovation Fund from the CU Foundation, $1 million will come from CU Denver, and $2 million will be earmarked by President Mark Kennedy from CU System funds in support of CU Denver’s HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) and AANAPISI (Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution) designations. Investing in these designations will put CU Denver in a position to receive even more grants and additional funding in the years to come. And, to ensure this DEI work continues moving forward, this fall CU Denver will establish an Institutional Equity Advocacy Council of students, faculty, and staff. Of the funding, $300,000 will support this effort for the next three years.
Below is a detailed roadmap, presented at the virtual discussion, outlining a timeline of DEI-focused initiatives at CU Denver.
While the April 15 virtual discussion is only a starting point for important work around DEI, it is a strong and forward-looking starting point that demonstrates a deep commitment to actionable change at CU Denver in the months and years ahead.
“CU Denver has the opportunity not only to help our students (and by extension, their families), our faculty, and staff, but to be a model for what this country needs to do,” Marks said in her closing remarks. “We’re uniquely positioned to be this model, to live up to our promise of creating social mobility for diverse populations through access to an excellent education, in an equitable culture of belonging.”