Response to United UTSA Coalition concerns
Note: The following letter was sent by UTSA President Taylor Eighmy to the United UTSA Coalition, in response to its letter of concern dated November 27.
United UTSA Coalition, firstname.lastname@example.org
NAACP at UTSA, email@example.com
My sincere thanks for your letter of November 27. I was grateful for the opportunity to follow up on my invitation to meet with the Executive Board of NAACP at UTSA, and I felt our meeting yesterday morning to talk through the letter’s contents in detail and to discuss UTSA’s ongoing response to the Patriot Front banner was very productive.
I share your total rejection of the deeply racist, misguided practices of Patriot Front and other white supremacist groups. The fact that they have targeted UTSA is very distressing. Though many colleges and universities have dealt with similar incidents over the last few months (including Northwest Vista College and St. Philip’s College right here in San Antonio), it doesn’t make the situation any easier, nor does it mean we should take it any less seriously. We need to work together to take steps toward unity and prevention of future incidents.
I promised to get back to you quickly regarding the requests you outlined in your letter. Many of them are in alignment with steps we are already taking or plan to pursue in the very near future.
- A formal statement denouncing the presence of hate groups on campus
You may have seen my statement on UTSA Today from November 21 which states unequivocally that groups championing intolerance, bigotry and hatred are not welcome on this campus. Although we know that drawing attention to their presence is one of Patriot Front’s goals, I feel that taking a strong public stance on this issue is vitally important. As San Antonio’s largest university, we need to take the lead. As such, I’m currently coordinating with the Mayor’s office and the Higher Education Council of San Antonio (HECSA) to produce a joint statement from San Antonio’s college and university presidents and the Mayor’s office that takes a strong stand against hate groups on our campuses. Though the conversations are early, I look forward to other presidents joining us in releasing the statement sometime in the next week.
- Commitment to refuse permission for any group attempting to share fascist and white supremacist messaging on campus
UT Austin has experienced many similar incidents on their campus. To ensure the well-being of their students, UT Austin recently strengthened their policies regarding non-university-affiliated groups staging protests, hosting gatherings or disseminating information, as well as what tactics university-affiliated groups may utilize. We are working now to implement similar policies here at UTSA, strengthening those we already have in place to increase the protection and safety of our students.
- Visible effort to determine the perpetrators and share camera footage
The UTSA Police Department is working diligently to investigate those responsible for the Patriot Front banner. Unfortunately, the cameras we have in the Paseo did not point to the bridge, and a review of footage from other cameras in the area is ongoing, but so far inconclusive.
Police Chief Gerald Lewis has offered to attend your next meeting to discuss their work to identify the persons responsible. He is also in constant dialogue with San Antonio’s NAACP chapter president Oliver Hill. I hope you will take Chief Lewis up on his offer to meet by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As proactive steps, we are in the process of purchasing and deploying additional cameras for strategic areas on campus, as well as increasing our officer patrol presence on campus between 9 p.m. – 6 a.m.
- Commitment to implementing a mandatory diversity and sensitivity training program for all incoming freshmen/transfers
Long before this incident, I began conversations with the Provost’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Advisory Council on administering a climate survey campus-wide. As previously planned, the faculty/staff version of the survey launched on Monday, and we are working with the Student Government Association to develop and administer a student version of the survey in the very near future. The results of these surveys will help us to identify UTSA’s most pressing issues in regards to diversity, giving us insights into the highest impact initiatives that will lead to a more inclusive campus environment. A diversity training program could very well be in this mix, as could a number of other important initiatives.
Moreover, as long planned, I have asked the Provost’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Advisory Council to begin developing a university statement on diversity and inclusion for consideration by our community as a statement of principle akin to our mission and vision statements.
In our meeting yesterday we discussed forming something like an expansive Campus Climate Council, driven by our Student Government Association and with broad student, faculty and staff representation. I see this Council as the body that could (1) help host campus conversations with me generally around our campus climate, (2) help further refine the work of the Provost’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Council, and (3) help assess the survey data and come up with recommendations to move us forward. I feel it’s important to give the surveys and Councils the opportunity to lead us collectively in the right direction regarding our next steps, but I am fully committed to putting resources toward this important work and resulting initiatives.
- Increase in faculty/staff diversity
The relatively low number of faculty, staff and leadership of color at UTSA is an issue I identified during my interview process. It is something we need to address head-on, which is why I include it in my strategic vision as a high priority (see the last sentence under Cultivating the Excellence of our People). My plan is to launch a strategic initiative this spring to directly address this need.
Finally, I wanted to mention that this recent event has illuminated the need for processes and procedures to anticipate, identify and communicate bias incidents on our campus. Last week I operationalized a Bias Response Team, led by Dean of Students Kevin Price and composed of campus administrators in key positions, to spearhead this effort.
In the days to come I will be meeting with more student groups around the banner incident to share information and ideas, and I will continue to update the community about developments.
Please feel free to reach out to me at any time with concerns, requests or thoughts. There is nothing more important to me than creating a safe environment for all UTSA students, and I will do everything in my power to do so.