Two weeks ago, I visited Omaha North and Omaha South high schools to visit with the students participating in UNL’s Nebraska College Preparatory Academy (NCPA). It was an inspiring visit. I greatly enjoyed being with so many dedicated young scholars who are passionate about their future.
Started in 2006, NCPA has become an incredible pathway for students who are academically talented and who would be the first in their family to attend college. The program also reaches many students of color. Last year, 86 seniors from four participating Nebraska high schools completed NCPA’s rigorous high school requirements. NCPA graduates are among our most successful students who attend UNL.
We are committed to the success of our students and thrilled at what this program is doing to create lifelong opportunities. But as LaDaysia Smith, a graduate of Omaha North and sophomore studying architecture at UNL said of her experience on our campus, “There are not a lot of students who look like me.” We have heard the same, many times, from our faculty and staff of color.
We have been committed to changing that. UNL asked Halualani & Associates to examine its diversity activities and efforts from 2011 to 2016. The resulting report included several recommendations to better recruit and retain diverse students, faculty and staff. In 2018, we created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and in 2019, we welcomed Vice Chancellor Marco Barker to lead it. Through the leadership of that office and our academic colleges, many units across our university have created plans to improve their diversity. Our N2025 Strategic Plan, announced in February 2020, has as one of its six aims to “Create a climate at Nebraska that emphasizes, prioritizes and expands inclusive excellence and diversity.”
Last year, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, I was shaken. His death and the death of many other people of color indicated a need for organizations to focus on understanding racism and on long-term, meaningful change toward greater racial equity. We announced our UNL Journey on Anti-Racism and Racial Equity, taking initial steps across UNL to learn and listen and then, with a diversity of input, to thoughtfully act.
Dr. Barker, the six faculty Journey Co-Leaders and I met with groups across our campus, hearing directly from them how much still needs to be done and their recommendations for steps we could take. The co-leaders then synthesized these comments into key themes. Based on this input, today our UNL leadership team is releasing our initial Commitment to Action toward our journey, with clear action items based on what we heard from our campus community aligned with the aims of our N2025 Strategic Plan.
We are committed to fostering an environment where we better recruit, retain and support the success of students, faculty and staff who are people of color. To strengthening and elevating the expertise and scholarship that address racial inequity. To, along with the University of Nebraska system, fostering an inclusive climate where people feel that they belong and matter. To examining and revising policies, promoting transparency and accountability and looking at institutional organizations and entities to ensure better representation. And to reviewing our COVID policies to ensure they reflected the needs of racial groups who have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic.
This is not a one-and-done plan. It is one step in our long-term, and critically important, journey to a more diverse, inclusive and equitable UNL. The bedrock of our N2025 Strategic Plan is that “every person and every interaction matters.” At UNL, inclusive excellence means we integrate diversity, equity and educational quality into our missions and operations. It is an active process for us to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, student development, instructional operations and engagement in local and global communities.
Our continued efforts will bring bright minds to our campus and our state, provide opportunities to excel, enhance our educational offerings, invigorate our research capabilities, build success for more students, and help create a vibrant workforce in Nebraska.
For nearly 153 years, the University of Nebraska has been working to provide access to exceptional higher education, and to spark research and creativity activity that enriches our state and improves its economic vitality. Today’s path forward is part of that overall effort; one we are absolutely committed to continue.
Ronnie Green is chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.