Last week the American Medical Association made international headlines by declaring racism an “urgent public health threat,” warning that it perpetuates health inequities and calling for systematic change to combat it.
“The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities. Without systemic and structural-level change, health inequities will continue to exist, and the overall health of the nation will suffer,” said Dr. Willarda V. Edwards, an AMA board member, in a public statement.“Declaring racism as an urgent public health threat is a step in the right direction toward advancing equity in medicine and public health, while creating pathways for truth, healing, and reconciliation,” Edwards said.
The same week, the UNC System offered a first look at the work of its Racial Equity Task Force — results from online surveys of students, faculty and staff as well as information from virtual town halls.
At its first meeting the task force heard a report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion survey results that found the system falling below its benchmarks. In fact, the results were worse than those from 2018.
When the task force was launched, board chairman Randy Ramsey and UNC System Interim President Bill Roper emphasized the importance of its work after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd and the mass demand for reform that followed. “George Floyd died a horrible, violent, and unjust death at the hands of a white police officer,” Ramsey and Roper wrote in the statement. “This immoral and indefensible act cries out for justice and compels all of us fully to recognize and grapple with our country’s history of racism and oppression that has so often resulted in violence. As members of the University community, it is our obligation and responsibility to do the hard work needed to address inequities in the UNC System for the benefit of students, faculty, staff, and all North Carolinians.”
Since then, however, Republican sentiment on race equity work has turned sharply negative at the state and national level — particularly with regard to the “history of racism and oppression that has so often resulted in violence” Ramsey and Roper cited. In August, President Donald Trump threatened to cut federal funding to schools that teach The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 project. He also had the federal Office of Management and Budget prohibit departments from using federal funds for executive branch staff training that includes critical race theory and the concept of white privilege as a component of systemic racism in the history of the United States and in contemporary life. That ban was later expanded to include federal contractors.
“Instructors and materials teaching that men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist are appearing in workplace diversity trainings across the country, even in components of the Federal Government and among Federal contractors,” an executive order on the matter read. “Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don’t there’s nothing in it for you!” Trump tweeted on the decision.
At the end of September, UNC Board of Governors member Darrell Allison resigned from the board. Allison, then head of the Racial Equity Task Force, was one of just three Black voting members of the board of governors and one of only five members on the 24-member board not a registered Republican. There are no registered Democrats on the board. Republican lobbyist Reginald Holley, one of the board’s few remaining Black members, took over leadership of the task force.
Meanwhile, in Winston-Salem, a federal court is currently conducting a trial in the case of SFFA v. UNC, a lawsuit brought by a conservative-funded group challenging the UNC Chapel Hill’s limited consideration of race in admissions to promote diversity.
In a report prepared and submitted to members of the UNC Board of Governors last week, the task force described not just clear indications that system racism is seen a problem but a lack of trust around the system’s efforts to tackle it.
“There is a perceived lack of commitment in DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] from the UNC System leadership, as seen by students, faculty and staff,” the report said. “Participants say they have seen and participated in a lot of listening efforts, and have not seen meaningful action. Participants are looking for new or improved processes and policies within the UNC System that address student, staff and faculty priorities.”
Today, a by-the-numbers look at student, faculty and staff sentiments on systemic racism and UNC’s commitment to change. Depending on the question, 2,100 to 3,100 faculty responded to the survey, as well as 4,300 to 5,800 students and 3,800 to 5,600 staff.
Percentage of those surveyed who said their institution’s leadership is “not very” or “not at all diverse”:
64 — Of faculty
56 — Of staff
50 — Of students
Percentage of those surveyed who said the UNC System’s leadership is either “not very or “not at all diverse”:
83 — Of faculty
72 — Of staff
54 — Of students
Percentage of those identifying as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC) who said they had experienced racial harassment or discrimination:
38 — Of staff
30 — Of students
Percentage of those identifying as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC) who said they were not comfortable reporting racial harassment or discrimination to their institutional employer
37 — Of faculty
31 — Of staff
27 — Of students
Percentage of those who said they weren’t confident that they would be protected from retaliation for reporting harassment of discrimination:
52 — Of faculty; the same percentage said they weren’t confident that offenders would be held accountable.
47 — Of staff; 48% said they weren’t confident that offenders would be held accountable.
38 — Of students; 45% said they weren’t confident that offenders would be held accountable.
(Source: UNC System Racial Equity Task Force Survey and Virtual Town Hall Findings)