With the movement arising throughout the nation calling for an end to racial injustice and inequality, in June FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg announced the creation of a new university advisory group, the Equity Action Initiative, to review and recommend initiatives to address issue of inclusion and equity, particularly as they concern FIU. He named three university/community leaders to spearhead the effort: El pagnier Hudson, FIU’s first vice provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and senior vice president for Human Resources; Valerie Patterson ’81, MSHA ’85, PhD ’95, director of the African and African Diaspora Studies Program and a clinical professor in the Department of Public Policy and Administration in the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs; and Delrish Moss, captain in the FIU Police Department and former chief of the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department. All are from Miami and are enthused about the initiative’s potential to articulate and actualize the recommendations of FIU community members committed to permanent reforms and positive change.
SOAR staff recently had the opportunity to interview the three committee leaders about the initiative; presented below are excerpts of that conversation.
The committee’s findings and recommendations were presented in a report released by the university in September 2020.
With the launch of the Equity Action Initiative, what can the entire FIU family – alumni and friends of the university, as well as students, faculty, and staff – do to help impact this vital effort, and what are thoughts on it?
El pagnier Hudson: We were charged by the president to identify initiatives that could begin the lifelong work to address those issues of inclusion, equity, really unearthing systemic racism as it exists here at the university. Part of the charge was to hear the voices of the community, both internally and externally. So, to that end, we began to receive communications from across the university, and we’ve engaged every voice, every email. We’ve met with several constituencies: We’ve met with retirees, alumni, students, certainly faculty and staff, community leaders from the Black community. What was also made clear was that this is about Black people, right? Where are those disparities? What have been those things that have impeded growth? So, in terms of what the community can do, is what they’ve done. They’ve engaged us in conversations, they’ve shared with us. We’ve gotten presentations, proposals and commentary.
Valerie Patterson: For me, as a person who is a three-time alumna of FIU, it has provided me an opportunity to examine and explore the university from multiple perspectives. I can argue that the university that I encountered in 1977, that this is a different university in 2020. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the perfect university. FIU has had a significant and tremendous impact on our local community. We see it every day. I see it from the perspective of having raised a daughter and a nephew and now having a son-in law who have all graduated from Florida International University. So this project demonstrates how serious President Rosenberg takes the idea of FIU as a change agent, both internally and externally.
Delrish Moss: I think one of the reasons I was added to the team was one, because I grew up here in Miami, had vast experience with regard to law enforcement here and working with communities. But then I was also tasked with kind of doing the same thing that we were doing in Ferguson, (Missouri), when I became chief there. And one of those things was looking at the community, looking at the system that was the police department there, and how they were leading out their charge to the citizenry in a place that was really polarized, with a really horrible history with regards to how they were doing things. I’m not saying that that was FIU, but certainly that experience was one of the reasons the president brought me to the table, so that I could kind of look at this work and recreate some of the things that we did there. This, in large part, has been fact finding – to get a real, deep gauge of where we need to improve and how that might happen.
What role can universities play, and FIU in particular, in effecting greater equality and inclusion in our communities and world?
Valerie Patterson: For me, as a young kid, the child of a single mother who really didn’t have the resources to send me away to college, I was afforded this opportunity to complete a bachelor’s degree here in my hometown. I know the difference that education made in my life, how my circumstances changed as a result of the acquisition of one degree, and then another degree and then another. And I think that what happens here within the walls of the academy – that have now extended into the community – that this is where consciousness and knowledge is raised, right? We have expertise here within our institution, and we are making a difference in the community – and so what better place than this university as the location where important ideas are created, examined, researched, implemented and ultimately make a difference in the community and the lives of those who live in those communities? We want to be welcoming and to create an opportunity for belonging.
El pagnier Hudson: We are, by our own definition of our mission, an urban-serving university. And what we’ve found in some of our discussions is that our Black children don’t feel welcomed here right now. So the great work that we’ll be able to do will be to shift the narrative through every platform; instances where we are now proposing that we will embed dialogue and teaching on diversity and equity initiatives within the classroom, touching these students that may have never had that exposure as a part of their curriculum outside of Black History Month. We’re talking about embedding it into our fiber so that all ethnicities are welcomed … (it) puts us in a position to create a greater welcome mat, if you will, for Black students who may not have thought that this was a place for them.
Delrish Moss: I think in all great transformational periods of history, education has been right at the center. When you look at the Civil Rights Movement, when you look at movements throughout history, educational institutions have led the way. Whether it be their students out making noise to make a difference or creating something magical that moved us into the future. Educational institutions are critical to the very fiber of how we get from one step to the next. And FIU is a transformational place. So by being more inclusive, by looking at this deeply and systemically, we create that bigger welcome mat.
Philanthropy can be a powerful tool for social change. Where do you think philanthropy can make the biggest difference in combating racial injustice and creating a more equitable future?
Delrish Moss: People who are involved in philanthropic work are trying to be transformational. They’re trying to make a difference. They’re trying to contribute to society in wonderful ways. One of the things we’re seeing all across the nation and all across the world is the conversation is changing, the narrative is shifting. To be philanthropic means that you’re there at that precipice, moving that needle forward. So I think they’re a critical component to the making of community, to the building of what will be the future. If you want to do good work, there’s no better place to be.
Valerie Patterson: There are opportunities for philanthropists and the Foundation to step in and support the work. Because there is work that eliminates inequities, work that eliminates disparities, that we’ve been able to identify as we’ve gathered evidence. We’re also working together to create recommendations and strategies for eliminating those disparities, so clearly resources will be needed to fund those strategies, and this is an ideal place for philanthropy to step in and make a contribution.
El pagnier Hudson: There are very clear places within the framework that we’ve presented that provide a lot of opportunity for philanthropic support. One would know that they’re changing not just the lives of the university or people, but literally of the globe because we will reach beyond and change mindsets; reach beyond and become the greater place that we know that we are and we should be.