Next Steps on our Shared Commitment Toward a More Equitable Community
August 10, 2021
Dear Wake Forest community,
In my email to the community last week, I introduced the idea of “radical collaboration” — reaching deep into the wellsprings of our Wake Forest culture to build new relationships, discover new ways to deliver our mission, and support new ideas for how the Wake Forest community can grow and thrive.
On a university campus, radical collaboration requires that we provide a space for affirmation and open dialogue. This is especially true for advancing actions committed to ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion. As a university, we must embrace and prioritize our inclusivity efforts across the spectrum of diverse experiences, identities and perspectives.
I am impressed by the substantive and serious work undertaken by the Wake Forest community. By my accounting, more than 100 individuals have served on 11 different committees and working groups over the past three academic years, and they reached out broadly across the Wake Forest community during their work. I am most grateful for this foundation of engagement. As we move forward, I know such engagement must continue.
This summer, the five Race, Equity and Community working groups, as well as the Committee on the Intersection of Incidents of Bias, Expression and Conduct, shared further detailed considerations on actions to take. To that end, I have charged the Cabinet with Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer José Villalba as lead to evaluate collectively and take the next best steps this year and ahead. The academic engagements of the Slavery, Race and Memory Project (SRMP) will also continue to expand our understanding of the University’s past and build on essential research about those who were enslaved in Wake Forest’s history. This will help inform appropriate acknowledgement and commemoration on our campus today. Wake Forest will co-host the next gathering of the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, thanks to the efforts of the SRMP. I will also encourage each of our departments and schools to find new ways to bring together diverse viewpoints and spur informed conversations about the role of institutional memory, memorialization and other forms of honoring, and accountability.
One substantive project that transitioned between Dr. Hatch and myself on July 1 is the renaming of the building formerly known as Wingate Hall. Let me recap where we are today and share where we will go next.
In April, Wake Forest formally adopted the guiding principles recommended by the Advisory Committee on Naming, co-chaired by Dean Jonathan Lee Walton and Trustee Donna Boswell, and resolved to create a memorial on campus to remember in full context our antebellum past and honor those who suffered under the institution of slavery and the University’s actions. In my first week as president, I met with the Advisory Committee on Renaming, co-chaired by Vice President José Villalba and Trustee Donna Edwards. I appreciate the devotion of significant time and energy given by so many to advance the rare and uncommon work of renaming.
Based on the guidance from the advisory committee, and further consultation with University leadership, I am taking the following steps:
- The building formerly known as Wingate Hall will be referred to as the Divinity and Religious Studies Building on all signage, websites and search engines, until a permanent name is approved.
- We will determine an appropriate process to rename sections of the campus road that bear the Wingate name. The University will initiate action with the City of Winston-Salem to ensure compliance with applicable laws.
- Over the coming months, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will lead efforts to engage the Wake Forest community in a structured, open dialogue concerning the guiding principles. From this process, we will also glean names of individuals, themes and concepts to inform and inspire our future endeavors as a university.
At Wake Forest, our goal is to be a model of rigorous intellectual engagement that leads to thoughtful, intentional and ongoing progress for the good of our society. An inherent part of Pro Humanitate is striving to be and to do better. I ask that we keep doing the work that is “never done,” the work that we at Wake Forest have been called by our motto to do. As an important step forward, we will put in place a structure to most effectively express our shared commitment — and to ensure our further progress — toward a more equitable community.
There is so much good taking place at Wake Forest, and I am impressed greatly by the open and honest efforts to address where we need to do better. Today, I call upon our entire community to engage in our continued shared efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. Together, more progress must be made, more progress will be made.
I am eager to contribute my time, energy and experience to our future, and hold all accountable for enhancing the spirit and practice of inclusion and belonging within our greater community.
Susan R. Wente, Ph.D.