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Search for VP of Equity and Social Justice; Enhancing Support of Diversity, Financial Aid

Dear Emerson Community,

In July, we bid a fond farewell to Dr. Sylvia Spears, the inaugural Vice President of Equity and Social Justice as she departed Emerson to become the Vice President for Administration & Innovation and Distinguished Professor of Educational Equity and Social Justice at College Unbound in Providence, Rhode Island. Before Sylvia’s departure, she and I shared the news that Dr. Ruthanne Madsen, Vice President of Enrollment, had graciously accepted our call to serve as interim supervisor of the Social Justice Center.

Ruthanne and the Social Justice Center staff have been diligently working over the past month to support the Emerson community and to advance equity and social justice at Emerson. I am deeply grateful for their continued commitment and hard work.

Given the extended timeline for the presidential search, it has become apparent that we should move forward at this time to seek new permanent leadership for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. This is an area of highest priority for all of us at Emerson, as the College reaffirmed at the beginning of this year. We will work collaboratively and in partnership with an experienced search firm to launch a national search for the next vice president who will lead us forward in our work to build a more equitable Emerson. While the details of the search committee composition and timeline will be forthcoming, please know that we plan to engage our community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni in this important search.

In the last year, while dealing with the pressures of the pandemic and the presidential transition, our community has seen the departures of several members of our community, including leaders, faculty, and staff of color who contributed so much to Emerson. While the reasons for their departures vary individually, we feel deeply the loss of their presence and perspectives.

Justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion remains a top priority for all of us at Emerson. In addition to the launch of the VP for Social Justice search, I would like to share progress on several related initiatives:

●      A cross-functional review committee is finalizing the hiring of an independent consulting firm focused on identifying and addressing structural barriers affecting students of color. Before her departure, Dr. Sylvia Spears assembled a subcommittee of the Presidential Advisory Group on Community and Equity, composed of students, faculty, and staff, to prepare a request for proposal and review proposals from consultants. Members of that group, along with senior leaders from the College, recently engaged in meetings with candidates for this critical work. We will continue to provide updates, including plans for engaging our community, in the weeks to come once a firm has been hired.

●      The College has launched the Emerson Circle of Creative Scholars, a new scholarship program designed to support historically marginalized students throughout their entire Emerson experience. This program will provide scholarships, mentorship, and a network of holistic support to Emerson Circle Creative Scholars from the time of admission through graduation and beyond. The Emerson Circle of Creative Scholars program launches in Fall 2022 with full four-year scholarships awarded to 10 incoming, first-year students. Incoming transfer students who hold associate degrees will also be eligible to receive enhanced financial support; five scholarships will be awarded to qualifying transfer students.

●      Emerson has created a new unit within the existing Office of Student Success focused on Student Success, Access, and Belonging, which will guide the development of students from historically marginalized backgrounds, support their personal, social, and academic goals, retention and persistence, and improve the overall student experience. Chris Grant has been appointed to the inaugural role of Director of Student Success, Access and Belonging; Chris will lead a newly created Assistant Director staff position, student peer mentors, and team of coaches dedicated to student success. The area will support not only new students that enter into Emerson College, but current students as well. Our goal is to increase the quality of the Emerson experience for all students and encourage engagement and success in a myriad of ways.

●      The College has increased financial aid to support the retention of students who find themselves in need of additional support while enrolled at Emerson. Coupled with the College’s commitment to increasing financial aid, we continue to depend on the support of the College’s donors and alumni. Thanks to their support and generosity, more than $2.7 million has been raised in the last year towards the College’s 3-year, $10 million fundraising mini-campaign for student financial aid, including commitments for two, full need-based scholarships for future students.

●      Emerson has also launched a new program, The Deans’ Fellowships for Racial Equity, which will provide increased financial aid and enhanced opportunities for peer leadership, personal and professional development, as well as academic and career networking. Beginning this academic year, 17 student recipients of the fellowship, who were selected from across the School of the Arts, the School of Communication, and the Marlboro Institute for the Liberal Arts & Interdisciplinary Studies, will work closely with the Dean’s leadership team from each school, faculty, BIPOC student groups, and others on campus to facilitate communication and actions that promote racial justice, equity, healing, and inclusion in each School’s academic environment. The fellowship provides an award of $3,000 per academic year. The application and selection process for the 2021/2022 academic year has already happened, but interested students should consider applying next spring for the 2022/2023 academic year. The academic deans will reach out to students in their schools in the spring semester for fellowship applicants for 2022/2023.

●      A cross-sectional, inter-divisional working group has been developed that includes Enrollment, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and the Social Justice Center charged with the goal of coordinating institutional support to improve learning, satisfaction, retention, and a sense of belonging for diverse students. This group will position the College to explore and implement strategic collaborative efforts that holistically address institutional gaps and attend to the articulated needs of student belonging.

The College remains fully committed to a diverse and inclusive student body, faculty, and staff. Significant progress is being made across our community, and there is much more work ahead of us. We will work together to realize the more diverse and more equitable Emerson that we envision, and to become the community of belonging that we aspire to be.

Bill Gilligan, EdD
Interim President

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