A place where we all belong: IU's mission of tolerance and inclusivity

Dear Friend of IU: 

Before I begin this update, I wanted to share a few important words about Indiana University's response to the rapidly evolving situation surrounding coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). 

IU continues to closely monitor the outbreak of respiratory illness caused by this novel (never before encountered) coronavirus, which was first identified in China in December 2019. 

As news reports for the last two months confirm, the coronavirus is exceptionally difficult to contain, and it can spread rapidly. While as of this writing there are no confirmed or suspected cases at IU, infections with COVID-19 also are being reported in a growing number of countries internationally, and clusters of cases are now appearing in the U.S. IU has taken firm steps to protect our campuses from coronavirus infections for as long as possible, and to prepare to manage cases if they appear. 

The coronavirus outbreak is understandably a cause of anxiety and concern for many students, faculty, staff and visitors. As such, we will continue to provide the latest information about coronavirus, tips for staying healthy and other health-related resources, which you can find on the Protect IU website.

Students in overseas programs and their parents are especially affected by the outbreak, and IU's Office of the Vice President for International Affairs has been working with all impacted students.

As with all of our response actions, we will follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the directions of state and local health departments. IU is also coordinating with over a hundred universities across the nation to ensure that we are adopting the best and most up-to-date practices and procedures to address this serious situation.

Building communities of diversity and inclusion 

In February at IU, we have been celebrating Black History Month, during which we have stressed that diversity and inclusivity are and must remain among the cardinal virtues for all of our campuses.

As educators, we insist that our students—and we ourselves—seek to understand and evaluate the ideas, assertions and arguments that come from other perspectives, traditions, disciplines and beliefs. Indeed, we know that diverse perspectives, information and worldviews, along with the willingness to subject them to rigorous examination, debate and discussion, help us understand ourselves and our beliefs, our assumptions and our knowledge more deeply and more thoroughly.

IU's Bicentennial Year, which began on July 1, 2019, and which will continue through June 2020, has provided us with an extraordinary opportunity to reflect upon our collective efforts to build communities of diversity and inclusion, strengthen the diversity of our campuses and ensure that IU is a welcoming home where all are respected and treated with civility and human dignity, no matter our race, ethnicity, cultural backgrounds, gender, political persuasion, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation. 

IU's minority student body exceeded 20,000 for the third consecutive year.  Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

Today, at the dawn of the university's third century, the university is as diverse and accessible as it has ever been, thanks, in important part, to the overwhelming success of IU's Bicentennial Campaign, which has helped us to provide record student financial aid.

Last fall saw another record for minority student enrolment across all IU campuses with IU's minority student body exceeding 20,000 for the third consecutive year. IU Bloomington has seen record numbers of African American, Asian American and Hispanic/Latino students, and the campus now has over 9,000 minority students—the most of any IU campus and representing a doubling of this number since 2007. The minority composition of domestic IU students now closely approximates that of our state.

Increasing minority enrollment at IU has been—and will continue to be—one of our highest priorities as we embrace our responsibility, as Indiana's flagship public university, to reflect our state's changing population. But our efforts in this area go beyond numbers. We are also striving to foster greater "interactional" diversity—ensuring that IU community members who come from diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to interact with one another in friendly, meaningful and educationally purposeful ways. IU's Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs supports six cultural centers that conduct programming, outreach, advocacy and events for IU students of all backgrounds. It also supports the African American Arts Institute, which, after a more-than-40-year existence, remains the only organization of its kind in the nation.

IU is also taking the fullest advantage of this unique year in its history to bring to light the unknown and underappreciated stories of the women, underrepresented minorities and other individuals who have helped to build and strengthen the university over two centuries.

Through several signature projects of the IU Office of the Bicentennial, including the Bridging the Visibility Gap project, Bicentennial Publication and Media Series, IU Historical Marker Program, Bicentennial Oral History Project, and Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit (look for the "Big Red Bus" soon at an Indiana town near you!), we are aiming to share a more complete historical narrative of IU that is more inclusive of the people whose stories deserve to be told and whose impact has not always been truly appreciated by contemporary students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university.

Rudy Professor of Music Marietta Simpson looks at a portrait of world-renowned opera singer Camilla Williams, which now hangs in the Indiana Memorial Union's East Lounge. Photo by Chris Howell, Indiana University

To this end, in planning and celebrating the Bicentennial, we have unveiled new portraits in honor of Carrie Parker, IU's first female African American student, and world-renowned opera singer Camilla Williams, the first African American voice professor at IU's Jacobs School of Music. Their portraits now hang alongside a portrait of Elinor "Lin" Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics, whom we also honored last October with a historical marker that sits outside the building where she taught for many years. We are also planning a new sculpture of Lin, which will be located near the marker and be the first statue of a woman on our IU Bloomington campus. It will be unveiled this summer. Also in October, we installed a marker in New Albany, Ind., in recognition of Lyda Radford, the first-ever student to enroll at the IU Southeast campus. Radford was an African American schoolteacher from Kentucky who came to Indiana after having been denied access to graduate education in her home state.

The following month saw the dedication at IU's Memorial Stadium of the new George Taliaferro Plaza and statue that is its centerpiece in honor of the pioneering and legendary IU football player who shattered racial barriers on the IU campus and on the gridiron. And each of the aforementioned commemorative statues and portraits was made possible through the support of the Women's Philanthropy Leadership Council at IU, which last September concluded a successful fundraising campaign to ensure the work begun through the Bridging the Visibility Gap project will continue in perpetuity.

As part of the new Bicentennial Publication and Media Series, which will be a long-term venue for stories about the history and legacy of the university, IU Press has published two memoirs about the power of education to realize one's dreams—one from former IU School of Education Dean Gerardo Gonzalez, a Cuban refugee, and one from the first vice president focused on diversity matters in any Big Ten institution, Charlie Nelms, who details his challenges coming from a sharecropping family and rising to become a respected administrator and scholar. Forthcoming books in the series will include a volume on LGBTQ+ history at IU and another on women's history at the university.

The legacy of women who have served as pathbreaking scholars, researchers, administrators and artists at IU is the subject of a new IU Newsroom multimedia storytelling project, launched in conjunction with IU officially turning 200 years old last month. Among the influential women recently featured in the Women Who Built IU project is Martha Dawson, an IU educator and founder of the IU School of Education's Urban Education program who devoted much of her life to changing how we teach children in poverty.

Earlier in February, we welcomed back to the IU Bloomington campus Keith Parker, the second black person elected to serve as IU student body president and a social activist on campus during the turbulent late 1960s, and who was awarded a Bicentennial Medal during his visit. In April, Parker's great-nephew, Courtland Crenshaw, will be featured on the IU Cinema screen in the documentary film "IU 2020" as one of the 12 students on the Bloomington campus whose lives have been chronicled by our multimedia students since 2016. Courtland has carried on the family legacy impressively; he is the president of his fraternity, the Alpha chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, which was founded at IU Bloomington.

Also in February we celebrated IU South Bend's purchase of the former Engman Public Natatorium, now the permanent home of the Civil Rights Heritage Center, and the return of Darryl Heller as the center's director. Through its service and outreach, the center is helping to advance IU South Bend's mission of providing an excellent, distinctive education that is responsive to the needs of the region it serves, as it also brings together members of the university community and the broader community to explore and address issues related to social justice.

Choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones holds up an honorary doctorate during his conferral ceremony.  Photo by Chaz Mottinger, Indiana University

And just a few days ago, we presented an honorary degree to the renowned choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones, who was in Bloomington for the world premiere of his new work, "What Problem?," co-commissioned by IU Auditorium as part of the IU Bicentennial and to celebrate Black History Month.

This Bicentennial-sponsored event was just one of the more than 500 separate projects, courses, publications and events (with many more still to come) that have been launched since planning began for the Bicentennial several years ago. Many of these special activities focused on documenting underrepresented voices, thus helping to provide a better understanding of the broader history of IU. I have mentioned a few of these voices already, but you can hear even more by visiting the website of Bicentennial Oral History Project, which began all the way back in 2008 and now features more than 1,000 stories about IU's heritage.

All of the activities I have just described are specially connected to IU's Bicentennial celebration. But they also speak to our core and longstanding missions of producing graduates who are prepared to make a difference in an increasingly interconnected world—one that will require greater appreciation of and respect for diverse peoples and cultures and a willingness to work together toward greater understanding and diversity. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."

In this spirit, I would like to briefly share a few recent developments at IU that are contributing to diverse, inclusive and welcoming campus communities of which we can all be proud.

Megan Diekhoff has an English teaching assistantship in Colombia through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Photo courtesy of Megan Diekhoff

IU's Fulbright students

In February we announced that for the fifth year in a row, IU has been named a top producer for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, a program of the U.S. Department of State. The Fulbright award is one of the most prestigious awards given to students seeking to study and serve abroad and which will prepare them to work in a world that continues to grow constantly more interconnected.

Fourteen IU Bloomington students and two IUPUI students received Fulbright awards for this academic year.

We are extremely proud that IU continues to be a top producer of Fulbright scholars. These awards reflect the excellence of our students. They also speak to our outstanding faculty and programs, and a commitment to international engagement, that have made IU one of the most globally engaged public universities in the U.S.

New International Center, America's Role in the World conference

This week will bring several major and exciting developments in IU's continuing effort to both ensure the greater internationalization of our campuses and expand and deepen our engagement with the world.

On Wednesday, March 4, we will break ground on a new International Center in the heart of the Bloomington campus, a center that will serve as the hub of IU's longstanding international engagement mission. This building will provide services and facilities for both the orientation of the record number of IU students who intend to study abroad and the orientation of overseas students coming to IU. This will, in turn, allow them to interact with and learn from each other. The International Center will also serve as a venue for the welcoming of members of the international delegations who regularly visit IU, while also providing facilities for meetings and other functions by the roughly 100 formal and informal internationally focused student organizations on the Bloomington campus. This model will be unique in the Big Ten and one of the few of its kind in the U.S.

On the next two days, Thursday and Friday, March 5-6, IU's Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies will host its fifth annual conference examining America's Role in the World. This nonpartisan conference will feature a number of distinguished guests, including former Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch, former Ambassador William J. Burns, who will deliver a keynote address, and Indiana Senator Todd Young.

This conference is an outstanding opportunity for IU students, faculty and staff to hear from leading foreign policy experts who are addressing some of the most pressing international challenges facing our country. And it continues to provide a very important focus on how Indiana interacts with the world and how global events and forces impact the growth and development of the Hoosier state.

Exhibition assistant Kirsten Taylor, left, and Grunwald Gallery program coordinator Linda Tien install “Awaiting Daylight,” a painting by Indiana University Professor Emeritus Barry Gealt, in the Grunwald Gallery of Art. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

Indiana Remixed

February saw the continuation of Indiana Remixed, the fourth annual Global Remixed Arts and Humanities Festival held on the IU Bloomington campus, which will run through April.

Presented each spring semester by the IU Arts and Humanities Council, the Remixed festivals celebrate contemporary art and ideas from cultures around the world. Previous festivals have focused on China, India and Mexico.

In concert with the goals of IU's Bicentennial celebration, Indiana Remixed is focusing on artists, scholars and other prominent cultural figures whose work is actively remaking and rethinking culture in the state of Indiana within a contemporary, global context and through a variety of media, including painting, film, dance, music and narrative storytelling.

The festival is also presenting a number of new works, exhibits and special events that spotlight issues of alienation, acceptance, ignorance and understanding and explore how a diverse array of perspectives and backgrounds contributes to what it means to be a Hoosier.

A final word

In the mid 1960s, then-Chancellor Herman B Wells spoke before a student commission on race relations. He asserted, "Our renunciation [of prejudice] must be personally implemented by deeds. Our actions will be the measure of the sincerity of our words." With this statement, Wells expressed IU's deep and abiding commitment to diversity, tolerance and inclusivity.

The enduring success of our great university will depend, to a very important degree, on our continued commitment to embracing diversity in the broadest sense and as part of the bedrock of all that we do.

Now in our third century of service as Indiana's flagship public university, we must continue to make every effort to develop IU as a diverse, multicultural, friendly, respectful and accepting community that serves as a model for our state and society at large.

On all of IU's campuses—and in their surrounding communities—there are many students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of IU who continue to embrace this mission and dedicate themselves with passion to making IU a place where we all belong.

With my thanks for your commitment to this most important work and for all that you do for IU,

Michael A. McRobbie