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Omaha and Lincoln NAACP chapters support UNL's racial equity plan
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Omaha and Lincoln NAACP chapters support UNL's racial equity plan

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Omaha NAACP leaders

Omaha NAACP Vice President Preston Love Jr., left, and President Rev. T. Michael Williams speak in support of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's plan to address racial equity and promote inclusion in a North Omaha community room Wednesday morning.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts recently decried critical race theory on a call-in radio show, encouraging parents to engage locally.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s plan to address racism and racial inequity, which has been the subject of intense criticism from conservative politicians, received a ringing endorsement from the Omaha and Lincoln chapters of the NAACP on Wednesday.

At a press conference in North Omaha, Omaha NAACP President the Rev. T. Michael Williams and Vice President Preston Love Jr. commended the university and Chancellor Ronnie Green for releasing the plan to, as the university wrote in a campus-wide email, foster “an environment where we better recruit, retain, and support the success of students, faculty and staff who identify as Black, Indigenous and persons of color.” (Preston Love Jr. is a regular community columnist for The World-Herald.)

“This is not political correctness. It is the right thing to do,” Williams said.

M. Dewayne Mays, president of the Lincoln NAACP chapter, also praised UNL’s plan and offered the chapter’s support. Local NAACP leaders said they were not involved in the creation of the plan, dubbed a “Commitment to Action,” but pledged to work with the university and Green now that it has been released.

“We want to do everything that we can to support it and to hopefully push it forward,” Mays told The World-Herald. “We feel like it would be good for the community as well as the state.”

The press conference came two days before the University of Nebraska Board of Regents is scheduled to meet for the first time since UNL released its plan on Nov. 17.

While there is no formal agenda item related to UNL’s plan, discussion of the plan may come up during the public comment portion of the meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Friday at Varner Hall in Lincoln.

Green and UNL have come under intense criticism from Gov. Pete Ricketts and other conservative politicians, including NU Regent Jim Pillen, a Republican seeking to replace Ricketts, who cannot seek reelection because of term limits.

In his monthly radio call-in show earlier this week, Ricketts called UNL’s efforts “anti-American” because the UNL plan focuses on race rather than individual strengths. In a press conference last week, the governor said he had “lost all faith” in Green. Ricketts also said UNL’s “Journey to Anti-Racism” equates to critical race theory.

Noting Ricketts’ rhetoric and criticisms, Williams said, “We urge Gov. Ricketts to reverse course and support this effort.”

Williams and Love said neither they nor Ricketts have reached out to each other over the UNL plan. Love, who in 2020 was a Democratic write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate, lamented Ricketts’ rhetoric.

“There was an opportunity for the governor to be really resourceful on this issue,” Love said. “When these issues come up, leadership is when you try to do it and respond in ways that don’t add to the divisiveness. You’re looking to bridge the gaps for communication and dialogue. This issue could have been held in that way because it’s bigger than just throwing stones.”

Asked if the governor wanted to respond, a spokesman for Ricketts referred back to a column the governor sent out earlier this week. In it, Ricketts wrote Nebraskans must address acts of racism and strive to improve education for all, but said “the accusation that UNL is institutionally racist is false and outrageous. It’s the product of the sloganeering of political activists — not thoughtful academics.”

Although the plan calls for addressing institutional racism, it never states UNL is institutionally racist. In a statement Tuesday, Green said he did not believe UNL is racist.

Ricketts also wrote the UNL plan “fails its own test of diversity by presenting only one view of race relations in America,” and said the plan betrays the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Love said the political soundbites and actions — including calls from two state senators urging Green to resign — should be non-factors and the conversation should instead focus on the plan’s overall vision.

Williams praised UNL for outlining increased support systems for minority students. Those measures include analyzing current and historical data pertaining to enrollment, financial aid, retention and graduation rates for minority students to build stronger support systems for those students.

Referencing his wife, a former UNL student who was the first in her family to go to college, Williams said his wife didn’t have a lot of background on how to navigate the university setting and structures.

“She fell through the cracks,” Williams said. “I think this program will keep students from falling through the cracks. It will provide higher graduation rates and greater success. And that’s the kind of thing we’re looking for, right?”

Love specifically praised UNL for keeping diversity in mind when it comes to staff and faculty.

“That’s good for that to be a focal point and to do the best that the universities can to look for qualified faculty and staff,” he said. “That will improve the culture and, quite frankly, be a positive asset for people of color who are considering what school to go to.

“It has a positive ripple effect.”

Some action items include the university’s intention to comprehensively review staff and faculty hiring and retention data in the context of race and ethnicity and incorporate UNL’s stated core responsibility to “create a positive culture and to safeguard equity, inclusion, dignity, and respect for all” in new employee and new faculty orientation sessions.

Williams believes the plan will also benefit White students.

“They fall through the cracks, too,” he said. “This kind of plan will certainly undergird what the university has in place to make sure that students get all that they need to succeed.”

Mays said he hopes that thoughtful dialogue can yet be had.

“I’m concerned about the soundbites that we’re getting that I think are divisive,” he said. “We need to sit down, talk about it and help our governor to understand (our) position. Once he walks a mile in our shoes, I think he’ll have a different understanding.”


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