June 10, 2020 - Building inclusive excellence at UMSL and within our region

Dear UMSL Community,

There are no perfect words. There is no perfect message. No statement I could make that would convey or adequately address the weight of this moment in our history. Along with a global health pandemic, we are facing head-on an existing epidemic that has plagued our nation since its very founding. Systemic and institutional racism has continued to dehumanize, devalue and disenfranchise those in our Black communities as well as those in other communities of color. 

Over the past days and weeks I’ve been listening and learning from the individuals and groups that lead our underrepresented university communities – including faculty, staff, alumni and student organization leaders – as well as community officials, local and state representatives, business leaders, clergy members, and more.

Our conversations have been heavy, honest and raw – and filled with moments of vulnerability. These conversations were and will continue to be essential as we move forward. These dialogues renewed my own hope for our future. I am again reminded of our enduring mission to transform lives and of the important role our university plays as an agent of change. Our past efforts – and those still to come – must reinforce our responsibility as a public, research institution of higher education to lead and drive the changes needed to carefully examine and address injustices in our own institution, community and beyond.

Acknowledging this responsibility is one thing. Taking action on it is another.

When I joined our UMSL community in 2017 as provost, one of our first goals was to develop a five-year strategic plan for our university. Collaboratively and with our sights set on the future of UMSL and the St. Louis region, we rightfully placed inclusive excellence among our top five strategic priorities. Since implementing the plan, we have worked to initiate many immediate actions to lift our community as well as long-term actions to address the barriers that disproportionately affect our communities of color and are reflected in areas such as retention rates, graduation rates and debt upon graduation.

From our strategic planning efforts, I am most proud that we as a university began making the needed investments in people and programs to build and grow our Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This investment was and is critical to maintain a meaningful and sustainable infrastructure to support inclusive excellence across our university. Because of this focus, our efforts have already led to record enrollments in professional development courses such as Diversity 101 and our Virtual Professional Development Series this summer.

To add to this programming – and beginning June 18 – we are launching the first of an ongoing series of virtual gatherings that include facilitated discussions on racial unity by a panel of experts. ODEI leaders will communicate details to faculty, staff and students this week and will follow with a robust calendar of activities for the fall.

Our Counseling Services unit has already established weekly mental health discussions to support the health and well-being of our students during this time. And, we are transitioning a speaker we had planned to welcome to campus this fall – Tabari Coleman with the Anti-Defamation League – to provide a virtual presentation this summer to address social justice issues and the community divide in the region.

Within our broader community, we are piloting an engagement program to offer free diversity and inclusion training for organizations within our region – the first of those trainings will begin Thursday and is entitled: Recognizing and speaking up against unintentional racism (aka microaggressions). Additionally, UMSL will again host Ameren’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Summit: The Courage to Live Your Values, to be held virtually from our Anheuser-Busch Stage in the Touhill Performing Arts Center. And, for the third year in a row, we will co-sponsor the St. Louis Equity Summit along with FOCUS St. Louis.

With sponsorship from Ameren and Express Scripts, and in discussion with other businesses, we will soon formally announce the STL Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Accelerator powered by UMSL Accelerate. This innovative program will provide capital, technology, education, mentorship and student interns to promising Black-owned and other underrepresented minority-owned start-up companies.

These are just a few of the many new and ongoing actions that we as a university community are leading to inform, educate and address the social injustices and inequities that affect our community, region and nation. UMSL – as an institution of opportunity – continues to advance our strategic goals of inclusive excellence, but there is admittedly more work to do. 

I look forward to continuing to engage our campus community and external partners in creating an inclusive, diverse and equitable environment for all.


Kristin Sobolik
University of Missouri–St. Louis