Dear Spartan community,
Fifty-five years ago next month, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a packed MSU Auditorium. Only a couple of months before, he had accepted the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. Days earlier, he had been released from jail after leading a march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. He came to MSU to support a student-organized program of educational outreach to Rust College, a historically black college in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
As we remember such encounters with a leader whose example continues to influence and inspire people around the world, the MSU community joins together this month to celebrate and reflect on Dr. King’s legacy. It starts with this afternoon’s University-Wide Diversity Research Showcase at the MSU Union. This event opens our 40th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration, themed “Still I Rise” from the Maya Angelou poem.
The next several weeks offer a number of events and activities on campus to remember Dr. King and his messages. Those events include the annual Student Leadership Conference, the Commemorative March for Social Justice and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Scholarship Dinner, all on Monday, Jan. 20, when classes are canceled to facilitate participation in MLK events.
It’s also a milestone year for the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine’s William G. Anderson Lecture Series “Slavery to Freedom: An American Odyssey” in February, which is Black History Month. Now in its 20th year, the lecture series brings three nationally recognized speakers to MSU Feb. 6, 20 and 27.
Over the years, MSU has been recognized for its support for civil rights, much of it focused on the leadership of the late MSU president John A. Hannah. Hannah was appointed the first chairperson of the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 1957, and Dr. King mentioned Hannah’s important work during his 1965 visit. Under Hannah, the football program also broke down racial barriers. In 1969, the Board of Trustees appointed President Clifton R. Wharton Jr., the first African American to lead a major university in the United States.
While much has changed over the years, far too much has not. The gap between the ideals courageously advocated by Dr. King and their fulfillment today — including on this campus — remains disappointingly wide.
We are working to build a community where every member feels safe, respected and welcome. I’ve appointed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee to look closely at the university and develop plans to address DEI shortcomings. I also acted on longstanding calls to commission a multicultural center feasibility study, which is in its early information-gathering stage.
To help implement the DEI plan and lead other important work across the university, I will appoint a committee to conduct a national search for a new chief diversity officer (CDO). Paulette Granberry Russell, senior adviser to the president for diversity and director of the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, recently shared her intent to transition from her position. She has earned our sincere gratitude with her tireless work to advance DEI.
I will recommend that the Board of Trustees create the position of vice president and chief diversity officer. This senior-level position will report directly to me and work collaboratively across campus to advance DEI efforts in a sustainable way that fosters change, promotes MSU’s core values and transforms the university’s culture. The CDO will be empowered and expected to reach and work across DEI efforts encompassing both academic and administrative areas of the university, including student admissions and success; faculty and staff recruitment, retention and advancement; and educational, research and community engagement programs.
Michigan residents, in alarming numbers, face the consequences of their own or a loved one’s addiction to opioid medications. You should know that Michigan State and our University Research Corridor partners are helping communities respond to this growing crisis through our research and outreach efforts. My fellow URC presidents and I wrote about this in a joint column yesterday in The Detroit News.
My conversation with College of Arts and Letters faculty and staff last week concluded my introductory visits to all 17 MSU degree-granting colleges. It is hard to express how impressed I am with our people and their work. Likewise, my time spent with MSU students never fails to remind me how they deserve our best efforts to provide an environment where all can thrive. And, the commitment of our Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, Residential and Hospitality Services, Police Department and other employees to keeping our campus operating and safe despite inclement weather merits mention as my first winter in Michigan unfolds.
Looking forward to 2020, much remains to be done — and I’m resolved it will be done. I look forward to joining Spartans and other community members at MLK celebration activities this month and in making our campus safer, more welcoming and inclusive for all.
Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.