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University of Rochester President to Form Commission on Race Relations

By Staff


Students protest on U of R's campus. Photo: University of Rochester

Students protest on U of R’s campus. Photo: University of Rochester

University of Rochester president Joel Seligman said he plans to create a presidential commission on race and diversity, after university students demanded the school improve the racial climate on campus Friday.

Five students from minority leadership groups met with Seligman Nov. 20, and presented him with a list of demands designed to improve the environment for minority students on campus.

“It is clear to me that the climate on our campus is not all that it should be,” Seligman said in a statement Nov. 23. “Some of our students, faculty, and staff have experienced instances of hostility, notably recently because of their race.”

Among those items on the list, students said they wanted the school to make racial awareness programs mandatory for faculty and staff; more transparency in the process for recruiting and hiring faculty; and a revised Code of Student Conduct to give more prominence to discrimination on campus, the school’s website stated.

Students reportedly requested the change after users made racist comments against African American students using an anonymous social media app called Yik Yak, earlier this year.

“The fundamental purpose of the creation of the commission on race and diversity is to address the broader questions of how we best can create an environment that is safe, supportive and welcoming for all in our community,” Seligman stated. “We cannot be blind to the reality that certain members of our community, because of their race, are the object of unacceptable hate speech on our campus, and elsewhere.”

Paul Burgett, vice president and senior advisor to the president, and Richard Feldman, dean of the college, will co-chair the commission. In addition, four students, including the president of the Students’ Association and one student who has yet to be identified by the college’s minority student leadership, will also take part in the commission.

According to Seligman, the commission will be charged with conducting town hall meetings, and providing an initial assessment of the following four topics by the end of January:

  • What is the state of our campus climate for all races today?
  • What programs have strengthened this climate?
  • What elements of campus life are not consistent with the healthiest campus climate?
  • What are the commission’s recommendations to improve our community?

Seligman has also asked the commission to recommend whether the use of Yik Yak should be barred over university facilities by Jan. 31.

“Working together, we can further strengthen a university that is welcoming, and supportive, of all in our community,” he stated.

The commission’s work will continue throughout the spring semester, Seligman said, and include preparation of a final report, also taking into account a faculty and staff survey which will separately be administered during the spring semester.

The university said it will announce the commission’s full membership in the next few days.