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A Hopeful Outlook on a New Academic Year

As we approach this school year, I am filled with hopefulness despite the uncertain terrain and the many challenges facing us today. Many of us began the summer excited to see friends and family, and perhaps we began to enjoy some time away from work with a bit more freedom. However, the moment is calling upon us to reset once again and manage our expectations. And so, we will carry on navigating through an unexpected context.

Our work in the Office for Institutional Equity continues, mostly remotely, but we have many exciting changes on the horizon. In response to the growing demands around compliance, we hired two new investigators who will respond to concerns about discrimination and harassment reported to OIE. We have also filled one support role, and we are finalizing filling the second, which will make the office fully staffed. The added personnel shapes us for an exciting return to welcome students, while it also reinforces our continuing work with the health system that can never fully shift to a remote environment. The office forges ahead with creating tools and information designed for enhanced clarity that will increase understanding and accessibility to the policy and processes for addressing discrimination and harassment. We also press on with advancing our projects to provide engaging, creative, and impactful educational and supportive training opportunities for the University community around diversity, anti-racism, equitable hiring practices, and more.

We are particularly excited about our role in supporting Duke’s ambitious commitments to racial equity. Together with our partners in the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement, OIE has led the development of a Racial Equity Advisory Council that comprises University leadership and four corresponding subcommittees that include students, faculty, and staff: Climate and Assessment; Education, Curriculum and Training; Communications; and Infrastructure and Policy. Each subcommittee will tackle the coordination, accountability, and transparency needed to transform the Duke community. This persistence to press on with transformative work reminds me of a quote in the epilogue of Theodore D. Segal’s “Point of Reckoning: The Fight for Racial Justice at Duke University” that, to me, captures the current moment and what needs to come next:

So the problem remains. Race is, and always has been, the core issue for Duke. Only after Duke’s Black students forced the university to consider the implications of desegregation and the aftermath of Jim Crow could the institution achieve the national and international prominence to which it aspired. But true greatness will only become possible if the University is able to create the diverse and inclusive culture it seeks.

Though we certainly recognize the tremendous amount of work yet to be done, this moment feels like we might be poised to make genuine movement towards creating the diverse, equitable and inclusive Duke we desire. Certainly, the future holds much uncertainty about what we still may face, but the energy to make real change at Duke and to honor our history, both good and bad, feels ripe and dynamic.

We wish everyone a productive, enriching, and meaningful 2021-22 academic year!

— Kimberly Hewitt, Vice President for Institutional Equity & Chief Diversity Officer, August 20, 2021