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Advancing Diversity, Inclusion, and Equality: Washington University in St. Louis

by Jeffrey Trzeciak | University Librarian | on March 1, 2016

Washington University is doing a great deal in this area, much of it relating to the August 9, 2014, shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the events surrounding the riots in that suburb. The university has expanded its actions now in four ways:

1) University Activities

Academic Pipeline Programs


The university is supporting and preparing students from a variety of backgrounds to enter leadership positions within research and higher education. Utilizing scholarships, internships, and fellowships as well as other academic pipeline programs, the university seeks to increase student diversity on campus and to contribute to a more diverse global academic community.

Bias Report and Support System (BRSS)


Washington University has developed a system that allows students, faculty, staff, and community members who have experienced or witnessed incidents of bias, prejudice, or discrimination involving a student to report the incident to the university’s Bias Report and Support System (BRSS) team. The BRSS team will:

  • Support students who have witnessed or been the target of bias-related incidents
  • Refer community members to appropriate university and local resources, and educate reporters on what to expect from each resource
  • Inform the university community about the frequency and nature of bias incidents through semester summary reports in order to drive discussion around making Washington University more diverse and inclusive
College Prep Program


In an effort to make higher education more accessible to first-generation students in the St. Louis region, the university developed the Washington University College Prep Program. Talented high school students spend parts of the summers of their first three years in high school living on campus, connecting with other talented students, participating as scholars in preparation for their own college careers (whether at Washington University or another institution that meets their needs and interests). The program is free.

Day of Discovery and Dialogue (February 2015)


The university sponsored the initial Day of Discovery and Dialogue where over the course of 25 hours, the subjects of race and ethnicity were explored by students, staff, faculty, and university administrators through the lens of the five themes:

  1. Tales to Astonish: Why Race Matters and Why It Shouldn’t
  2. The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity
  3. Race and Ethnicity in Everyday Life
  4. Moving Beyond Stereotypes
  5. The Future and Our University Community

Many library staff participated in the event.

Day of Discovery and Dialogue: A Focus on Inclusion (February 2016)


This was the second annual university-wide gathering to reflect upon our efforts to become a more diverse and inclusive community. The program began with a keynote address and conversation with special guest National Public Radio anchor and executive producer Maria Hinojosa. Later a small-group exercise asked participants to consider the question, “How do we achieve the inclusive community we aspire to be, where all individuals can be heard and respected?” The program concluded with Washington University alum Joe Madison, “The Black Eagle,” taping his Sirius XM radio show, “An American Conversation,” where students, staff, faculty, and university administrators reflected on the current state of diversity on campus and suggested what was needed to continue to move forward. The ideas captured in the three-day event will be utilized by various university groups and initiatives for monitoring and further developing campus diversity and inclusion efforts.

Diversity and Inclusion Grants


The university awarded a series of Diversity and Inclusion Grants to faculty and staff, providing opportunities to develop and lead innovative projects to address diversity topics on campus. The library was one of the initial recipients, to start a program of minority recruitment in collaboration with Jerome Offord Jr. at Lincoln University (an HBCU), “Recruiting a Diverse Library Workforce: Summer Internship Program in the Washington University Libraries.” This program is now fully funded as part of the library’s base funding and we have hosted library interns for three years.

WashU Voices


After the August 9, 2014, shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the university established a website called WashU Voices. The site provides an overview of activities related to Ferguson intended to generate discussion and highlight activities around diversity and inclusion.

2) Provost’s Office Activities

Center for Diversity and Inclusion


Provost Holden Thorp established the Center for Diversity and Inclusion in 2014. The center is housed in the library and the two staffs work together on events and programming. We developed the Serenity Room, a place of worship and other “quiet” activities. It is adjacent to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

Diversity Commission


The Diversity Commission was created by chancellor Mark Wrighton and provost Holden Thorp in January of 2015 to develop a university-wide plan for diversity. Utilizing working groups, to hold campus-wide discussions, the commission is initially focusing on staff diversity, diversity training, university-wide engagement and dialogue, monitoring and reporting progress, recognizing leadership and its impact in achieving diversity, and a recommendation to explore the possibility of a race and social justice institute. Rudolph Clay, head of library diversity initiatives, is involved with the commission.

Ferguson Academic Seed Grant


The provost’s office established the Ferguson Academic Seed Grants to help fund efforts that facilitate intellectual discourse, support curricular innovation, promote new research, pilot programs for larger intellectual undertakings, or invite academic residencies on issues and topics that underscore root causes of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and similar events in our region and around the country. The university librarian sits on the committee that evaluates grant proposals; this allows us to connect subject librarians to the various research and teaching opportunities that may have otherwise been missed by the library.

In addition, a number of departments on campus, including the library, are offering “matching grants” to recipients of this provost office initiative. The library has had so much interest from faculty who want to conduct and archive oral histories that we have now moved a librarian into a role supporting oral histories. Subject librarian Makiba Foster has been reassigned so that she can focus her efforts on oral history support and our project, Documenting Ferguson.

3) Academic Departments Activities

The Divided City Initiative


The Divided City Initiative is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The goal of the initiative is to bring humanities scholars into interdisciplinary dialogue with architects, urban designers, landscape architects, legal scholars, sociologists, geographers, GIS cartographers, and others around the issues of segregation. The university librarian sits on the advisory committee. Like the Ferguson Academic Seed Grant, this initiative makes awards for teaching and research. The director of the Missouri History Museum, is also on the advisory committee.

4) Washington University Libraries Activities



Washington University in St. Louis, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, and the University of California, Riverside, are collaborators on a two-year Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant–funded project, “Documenting the Now: Supporting Scholarly Use and Preservation of Social Media Content.” DocNow will be developed as a cloud-ready, open-source application for collecting, analyzing, and preserving tweets and their associated metadata for noncommercial, scholarly research. It will initially be developed using tweets and web content related to the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

Documenting Ferguson


The library developed a project called Documenting Ferguson that combines an Omeka local site for capturing “born digital” materials. Documenting Ferguson is a digital repository of photographs, video, and other content created and captured by community members following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. The goal of the project is to provide diverse perspectives on the events in Ferguson and the resulting social dialogue. The online archive is free and accessible to all. The project is also a collaboration with Archive-IT to capture born-digital materials on the web. The initiative has received quite a bit of attention, including a New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/31/us/as-ferguson-looks-to-rebuild-archivists-move-to-preserve-what-was-lost.html?_r=2.

We recently received an innovation award from the National Digital Stewardship Alliance for our efforts:

The Regional Collecting Initiative on Ferguson


A consortium of St. Louis institutions (Harris-Stowe State University, the Missouri History Museum, the Missouri Humanities Council, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and Washington University) has been organized to work collaboratively in the gathering and preservation of materials that capture the story of events that took place in the St. Louis region following the August 9, 2014, shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson. This project aims to document the people and experiences that have shaped the movement for change and to make the collections broadly available in order to create opportunities for engagement and learning.

Recruiting a Diverse Library Workforce: Summer Internship Program

The goal of the summer internship program is to encourage undergraduate students from ethnic and racial minority groups to pursue the MLIS (master’s degree in library and information science) and to ultimately increase the pool of diverse librarians from which the Washington University Libraries and other academic libraries can recruit.

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