Pelissero Announces Plans to Foster Diversity

Interim President John Pelissero started the spring semester by responding to the demands of a group called Loyola Black Voices. Their call to action was first presented to administrators at a demonstration last November.

“[The students of Loyola Black Voices] have stated, and I agree, that Loyola should, and can, do more to ensure better access, resource allocation, and support of minority students on campus,” said Pelissero in an email to the Loyola community on Jan. 19.

The letter said the efforts to achieve diversity will include implementing new recruitment programs for potential African American students, adding diversity awareness to the University 101 curriculum and conducting a climate survey to learn more about the experience of students, specifically marginalized students, at Loyola.

Pelissero also asked history professor Christopher Manning to serve as his advisor for diversity issues and as a liaison between students and faculty. Manning has experience teaching courses such as African American history and the Chicago civil rights movement, according to Loyola’s website.

Read Pelissero’s full letter below:

Dear Students,

Happy New Year, and welcome back after what I hope was a refreshing and enjoyable holiday season and time with family and friends. I want to start the year off with a message of renewed commitment to creating an environment that treasures our diversity by both respecting our differences and celebrating our collective goal of a better University community and society for all. I envision a semester of listening to and learning from each other, addressing issues together, making progress, and fostering justice.

To that end, this first note of the new year is in response to concerns shared with me, and others, last month by a group of students—the Loyola Black Voices. They have stated, and I agree, that Loyola should, and can, do more to ensure better access, resource allocation, and support of minority students on campus. I share this goal, as do our University trustees, leaders, and faculty and staff. What we heard are complex issues; issues that our city, and the nation, continue to grapple with. As a Jesuit, Catholic institution, we are the perfect place for these conversations to occur and we will take action through our strategic plan, “Plan 2020: Building a More Just, Humane, and Sustainable World.”

This note provides updates related to what we are doing in a number of areas that were highlighted by Loyola Black Voices as issues of particular concern. I want to emphasize that these are important issues not just for our African-American student population but for all students of color and all students who identify with a minority group, including first-generation students.

African-American Student Recruitment – The Undergraduate Admission Office will continue its commitment to increase the number of African-American and minority students recruited to attend Loyola. Last fall, Undergraduate Admission conducted focused recruitment in the City of Chicago, including participating in more than 70 events at high schools that have large populations of students of color. This spring, the office is hosting a multicultural overnight program and is launching a peer-to-peer program for admitted students to connect with current students of color. These ongoing efforts require a sustained focus.

Financial Challenges of African-American Students – The Admission Office is also working closely with the Office of Financial Aid to develop merit and grant awards that will attract a diverse student body. Our goal is to ensure our aid packages are competitive with other institutions and that they will support enrolled students through graduation. Loyola implemented revised award processes, which enabled us to enroll the most ethnically and racially diverse class in the history of Loyola last fall with 42 percent of our incoming freshmen identifying as students of color and a 47 percent increase in our African-American student population this academic year. We will continue to diversify and support our student population.

Retention and Success of African-American Students – Our academic leaders, along with the Council for Student Success and the Division of Student Development, are collaborating to increase the retention rates for all of our students, but most especially for students of color. Institutional programs such as Achieving College Excellence and the Men and Women of Color initiatives have helped increase our student retention rate to 86 percent of freshmen and 87 percent of African-American students last year. We will continue to grow our individual mentoring programs and focus on additional opportunities to help minority students succeed.

Core Curriculum Program Modifications – The Board of Undergraduate Studies is working closely with undergraduate deans, department chairs, and the Core Curriculum director to diversify our curriculum. Also, discussions with students regarding the Core, which began last semester, will continue. Modifications to University 101 content to address cultural competence and diversity awareness are being made and will be instituted for the 2016—2017 academic year. Additionally, the University Core Curriculum is being reviewed with the goals of identifying courses that address diversity and determining where we need to add diversity courses. Understanding and promoting diversity is an embedded value of the Core, and faculty administrators will continue to engage students in conversations to make progress in this area.

Classroom and Facility Expansion – The Arnold J. Damen, S.J. Student Center was built to offer students a welcoming, state-of-the-art environment for student activities, services, and amenities. The Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Office, as well as the Black Cultural Center, have space within Damen. Additionally, there are multiple large and small spaces within the center for meetings, as well as larger, reservable venues for programs. We will continue to be mindful about maintaining safe spaces for students to gather.

Climate Survey – Winifred Williams, PhD, vice president of human resources and chief diversity and inclusion officer, has created an Executive Council on Diversity and Inclusion to map out a strategic direction to increase diversity and enhance inclusion at Loyola. This Council includes administrative, academic, Jesuit, and student leaders. Initial goals include developing a diversity statement for the University and conducting a campus climate survey regarding the experiences and concerns of all students on campus, including students of color and any students who feel they are marginalized in any way. The Council, which has solicited outside vendors to conduct the survey, expects to launch the survey by March 1. We will share updates on the survey in the coming weeks.

Additionally, I have asked Christopher Manning, PhD, an associate professor in our history department and a longtime faculty member who is very familiar with our mission at Loyola, to join the President’s Cabinet this semester and to serve as an advisor to me, and a liaison with students and faculty, regarding diversity issues. Dr. Manning will help us think critically about how we can meaningfully address the needs of our students of color.

Over the break, Dr. Williams, Dr. Manning, and others created a new Diversity and Inclusion at Loyola website. We hope the site will be a valuable resource for students and our entire University community with content on our diversity and inclusion goals, services, programming, and opportunities to get involved in this important work. It is a work in progress and we welcome perspectives and input from students on its usefulness and ways we can enhance the site.

There are three upcoming events that I hope you will attend. On Friday, January 22, the University Senate will hold a public forum from 3—4:30 p.m. in the Damen Student Center (Sr. Jean Schmidt, BVM, MPR South) for the community to discuss the future of Loyola’s student demonstration policy. Recommendations will be reviewed by the full Senate at its February meeting. Please attend the forum and share your ideas so that our policy reflects our shared goals of respectful, safe, and timely on-campus demonstrations.

The University will host multiple events to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. On Wednesday, January 20, the Health Sciences Campus will welcome Linda Rae Murray, MD, MPH, to campus to discuss “Challenging Institutional Racism: Reflections of a Modern Day ‘Shero.'” Click here for details.

On Wednesday, January 27, you are invited to attend the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on the lakeside campuses. This year’s celebration features the co-founders of #BlackLivesMatter—Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors. We welcome them to campus to discuss the national movement to address and eradicate racism on college campuses, including our own. For full details of the celebration, click here.

In addition to asking me to address several issues, which are updated in this letter to you, Loyola Black Voices requested a general timeline on progress Loyola will make by the year 2020. As you know, we are currently conducting a search for the next president of Loyola. I believe we will build on the momentum of the fall and make significant progress toward our shared goals this semester. It will be incumbent upon the next University president to continue to address diversity and inclusion issues, and to map out a plan for furthering our institutional progress on all we achieve this semester.

While this note is long, I want it to fully report on the progress we are making, and will continue to make. I ask you to respect our conversations—many of which will be difficult—that we will have throughout the semester. We know there are no simple solutions to complex problems and we will lean into critical thinking, as it is a tenet of our educational mission and central to our Jesuit, Catholic heritage. I view the work ahead as an opportunity—and a responsibility—to create positive change and build community on campus, in Chicago, and beyond.

I hope you have a great start to your semester.


John P. Pelissero, PhD

Interim President

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