Earlier this summer, in the midst of the pandemic, America came face to face with the issue of racial inequality, leading to protests in multiple states and a debate that has played out on a national stage. We have all had to look at our preconceptions about race, class, policing, socioeconomics, and the standing of underrepresented and underserved communities within our great nation. It has not been an easy discussion, nor should it be.
These conversations should make us uncomfortable, because they challenge the status quo and force us to reconcile the parts of our society and culture that we often ignore. Too many of our long-standing institutions do not reflect our society as a whole, putting all of us at a disadvantage when it comes to providing equal access to merit and need-based opportunities. As Chancellor of LSUS, I recognize that there is still work to be done at our university to make us reflect the community that lives in the Shreveport-Bossier region. This is both a challenge, and an opportunity for growth.
In an open letter earlier this summer, I stated, “LSUS is committed to the goal of assuring a safe, welcoming, and nurturing community that celebrates diversity. Diversity makes us all better. It allows us to broaden our worldview, overcome prejudices, and creates a more vibrant and tightly woven social fabric.” These words were only the first step. A stated commitment is only worthwhile if it is followed by action.
Late last year, with the assistance of Dr. Dereck Rovaris, Vice Provost for Diversity at LSU A&M, we created the position of Assistant Provost of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement to lead and coordinate university-wide initiatives fostering and sustaining a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community partners. This summer, Dr. Kenna Franklin accepted this pivotal role at LSUS. She will assist Dr. Helen Taylor, our Provost, in collaborating with campus stakeholders in strategic planning, diversity education and training for students, faculty, and staff, community outreach and relationship management, policy development, and campus climate issues.
Dr. Franklin has hit the ground running. In her brief time in the role, she has been instrumental in helping the campus community navigate discussions related to the Black Lives Matter movement, leading up to a campus-wide town hall meeting with a moderated panel on September 2nd. She is also planning programming and outreach related to National Hispanic Heritage Month. There has already been an increase in students volunteering to help in these and other efforts, a testament to the social awareness and advocacy within our student community.
Dr. Franklin’s role is crucial for the university, but she cannot do it on her own. As I stated earlier, it comes back to each of us, whether faculty, staff or student. It requires an unwavering commitment from the university’s administration, which starts with the Chancellor’s office. This is a long journey. There will be challenges and missteps along the way. But diversity and equality are worth fighting for, whether drawn along lines of race or gender or sexual orientation. These are not political issues; they are human issues. As a university we can and will do more to set the example for our community, a community that we should not only reflect, but work to enhance.
Larry Clark | Chancellor of LSU Shreveport.