A Message on Race and Diversity

February 28, 2021
Hepburn Hall in the Fall 868c98d756562c8f7c8a3dbed8fa0a25
Dear Members of the NJCU Community:

For more than 400 years, the country that calls itself the ‘hallmark of freedom and justice’ has condoned racism and slavery in its many forms.  The economic well-being of over half the states as this country began were rooted in a business model that relied on the labor of enslaved people.  The Civil War and the resulting Reconstruction did little to change things for Black Americans.  Jim Crow laws, segregated schooling, unfair housing practices, and overt racism have continued to keep Black Americans from achieving their dream. 

The Civil Rights movement was a major step forward with integrated schools and some changes in housing practices and employment.  Affirmative action brought some changes that helped to provide opportunities to the Black community.  The military was officially integrated, long after Black Americans had served valiantly for years in numerous wars and infractions, defending the United States.

We celebrate this progress. “But progress on race issues is not resolution on race issues”, as noted by Roger Cohen from the New York Times.  These past few weeks vividly demonstrate that so much remains to be done.  The eyes of the world have seen that practices and policies in many police units disproportionally disfavor Black Americans.  Laws around policing need to be changed, along with the purpose of policing.  Places of work and housing are not as inclusive as they need to be.  Educational opportunities for students of color is often fraught with inequality and underfunding.  There is much work to be done.

NJCU is an institution dedicated to educating all the students who come to its doors.  Many of those are Black.  We have a responsibility to ensure that they leave with a strong degree, little or no debt and with a good job or exceptional graduate school offer in hand.  They, along with the many other students at NJCU are the future of our country.  Their capacity to learn, grow, be resilient, and excel in their chosen field is paramount to the success of our city and our region.  This takes hard work and I am proud of all those at NJCU who are deeply committed to this.

Our employees come from all walks of life and many backgrounds.  A primary responsibility of any institution is to grow its employees to reach their full capacity and enable them to progress professionally.  The college and university community nationally needs talent like ours. We are a training ground that sends out exceptional leaders who will bring new insights and leadership to institutions.  Leadership development programs at Harvard, HACU, ACE, AASCU, and AACU have provided important opportunities for our employees who want to move ahead. 

While we have accomplished a lot, we have much hard work that lies ahead of us. We have and must continue to set high goals.  Through work accomplished out of Human Resources and the President’s Diversity Council, measures are taken each year regarding the diversity of employees and students.   Goals are set and shared with the Board of Trustees.  We are committed to doubling our efforts here as we look to ensure that students can have mentors ‘who look like them’ in and out of the classroom.  

This is a time to take action and not mere words.  We need once again to take stock of where we are, where we need to be, and tap into the talent across the community to forge our path. The first step is to draw this talent together.  To do that, I will be assembling a high-level team of advisors with representation across the campus, including national leaders in this field, some of whom serve on NJCU Boards. 

Lissiah Taylor Hundley, Head, Strategic Partnerships and Client Fulfillment DiversityInc has agreed to assist in this important work.  Ms. Hundley serves as the Head of Strategic Partnerships and Client Fulfillment for DiversityInc. and manages corporate partnerships and supports product development, account management, survey development, and partner events. Hundley holds a Juris Doctor degree from St. Mary’s Law School in Texas. Named one of the Top Executives in Corporate Diversity, by Black Enterprise Magazine, Hundley has been a featured speaker at national forums, including the DiversityInc. Top 50 Event, the ANA Multicultural Marketing and Diversity Summit, the DisabilityIn National Conference, and the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Annual Summit.

Aisha Thomas-Petit, Chief Diversity, Inclusion and CSR Officer at ADP will also work with this group.  Thomas-Petit serves as Chief Diversity, Inclusion & Corporate Social Responsibility Officer for ADP.  She leads ADP’s global diversity and inclusion strategic roadmap for attracting, developing and retaining top talent. Aisha is also the Chair of the Sustainability/CSR Steering Committee and VP and Secretary of the ADP Foundation. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Syracuse University and an MBA from Rutgers University. 

This group will look at issues of social justice for the Black community and provide implemented solutions for NJCU and the surrounding community as well as develop plans for broader measurable diversity goals for the institution. 

With all the challenges we face today, it is easy to fall victim to despair.  I am encouraged by the words of Andrea Young, the daughter of Andrew Young, former Mayor of Atlanta and Ambassador to the United Nations.  “Nobody believed more in the promise and mythology of America than blacks.  We have believed all people were created equal, fought over generations for the truth of the statement.  The fact that I am here means I am descended from people who, even enslaved, did not give up hope. To do so now would be a betrayal.”

In this spirit of undaunted hope, I look forward to coming together as a community and getting down to the important work that lies ahead.

Sue Henderson, Ph.D.