Equity and Diversity Breakfast

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Two years ago this week, at this breakfast, I was a brand new president of this University, fresh-faced, not a gray hair on my head.

Here, at this event, I made one of the first major announcements of my administration: Even as we were reducing the number of vice presidents in our organization, I decided to keep the leader of our Office of Equity and Diversity at the vice presidential level.

I meant it as a clear and unmistakable signal of how important that position and the issue of equity and diversity are to me and to our University system-wide.

A nationwide search ensued. It was a loooong search, but, eventually, a highly successful search. As we conducted it, we spoke to many people around the country. We were repeatedly told something we knew, and that we celebrate every year right here at this event.

That is, our Office for Equity and Diversity is exceptionally good. We set the pace and the standard nationally. I am very proud of our OED, and thankful for the hard work of its staff. We lead many other institutions in resources, programs, and commitment.

For example, for the second year in a row, we’ve won the prestigious Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award named by Insight Into Diversity magazine. Once more, we won top ranking from Campus Pride as a GLBT campus. Also, this year we’re celebrating the 20th anniversaries of three exceptional OED programs: the Office of Conflict Resolution, the Puckett Scholars Program, and our GLBTA Programs office. Still, we must and will get better.

We will get better because promoting and committing ourselves to equity and diversity is so critical to this University and this state at this time in history. Allow me to offer three examples: Alondra Cano, Abdi Warsame and Blong Yang.

They are three new Minneapolis City Council members.

Cano, Ward 9, is the first Latina City Council member. We are very proud that she is a University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts alumna. Warsame, Ward 6, is the first Somali City Council member, and executive director of the Riverside Tenants Association, our important neighbors on the West Bank.

Blong Yang, Ward 5, is the first Hmong City Council member. We take pride in knowing that he is a University of Minnesota Law School grad. And I rest my case.

Any large institution that fails to connect with the changing diversity of our nation—of our metro area, our state, of our neighborhood—will not succeed in today’s America or today’s Minnesota. And any institution that fails to recognize and fight the inequities in our society, our cities and our state, will not be living up to its moral and civic responsibility. We at this University do, and we will continue to.

In closing, let me return to that search we started two years ago. It ended with us finding the absolute right person. You will be hearing from her later this morning. Her name is Katrice Albert, our Vice President for the Office of Equity and Diversity, and a truly inspirational leader.

She’s been here about five months now, and I believe everyone who’s met her will agree: she was worth the wait. I find it fitting that Dr. Albert is a native of New Roads, Louisiana, population a grand total of four thousand, eight hundred and two. With your partnership—and with her vision and leadership—I’m confident that Vice President Albert will develop new roads and innovative paths for our University’s commitment to equity and diversity. That’s why she’s here at the University.

And that’s why we’ve all gathered here today, a community committed to building new avenues for equity and diversity.

And we must build them … together.

Thank you.