A University of Nevada, Las Vegas task force has responded to racial unrest following the death of a man in police custody in Minnesota with recommendations to address safety, equity and inclusion among Black students and employees.
Acting UNLV President Marta Meana and Chris Heavey, interim executive vice president and provost, released a July 7 email calling the weeks after the May 25 death of George Floyd “profoundly painful for our university, our community, and our nation,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported .
“The long history and recent string of killings of unarmed African Americans have finally brought about a moment of reckoning that needs to persist past the immediate reflection and protests. Black Lives Matter. Now and forever,” the administrators wrote.
Floyd’s death sparked weeks of protests across the nation and calls for social justice after video showed a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd lay face down on the ground. The officer has been fired and faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
The UNLV administrators pledged efforts “to increase access and opportunity for individuals of color and others traditionally underrepresented in higher education,” and to “support every member of our UNLV family and help everyone attain their educational goals and professional objectives.”
In the email, Meana and Heavey gave an overview of recommendations that they said they plan to implement from the 12-member Anti-Black Racism Task Force created in June.
Those include denouncing racism and Black racism during UNLV student orientation; creating a website for the task force; sponsoring an on-campus workshop to provide employees with intercultural training; expanding mental health services for the Black community; and implementing university police changes.
Academic recommendations include developing support initiatives for Black faculty; implementing a search advocate program to attract more faculty of color; hiring a cluster of scholars once a hiring freeze is lifted “whose research, teaching, and service is dedicated to combating racism and increasing social justice;” and expanding the university’s African American and African Diaspora Studies program.
UNLV also is considering the future of its mascot after removing a bronze statue of Hey Reb! from campus in mid-June following outcry from student groups.
Critics and advocates call the mascot racist and rooted in Confederate mythology.
University officials had characterized it as a symbol of rebellion dating to the creation of UNLV in the 1950s as an offshoot of the University of Nevada, Reno.
Javon Johnson, chairman of the task force faculty subcommittee, is assistant professor of African American studies and director of African American and African diaspora studies.
He told the Review-Journal that he had previously emailed the president and provost and expressed “frustrations with how universities typically go about addressing racial issues.”
He said that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, university administrators turned to education and health experts for guidance. But he said that in response to racial strife, UNLV did not equally turn to Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies faculty.
Johnson has been at UNLV for three years, and said the university failed in the past to adequately respond to racial incidents.
They include an October 2019 shooting threat found in a bathroom stall directed toward Black students and Bernie Sanders supporters. Students protested after it took more than five days for the university to issue a campus notification. Officials said the threat was determined to be unsubstantiated.
In 2018, an anonymous sticky note with the message “kill the blacks” was found in UNLV’s Lied Library, and a separate report said someone made gun-pointing movements toward Black students.
Johnson acknowledged the university faces budgetary issues spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, but said UNLV needs to put more money and hire additional faculty in its African American and African Diaspora Studies programs.
“Budgetary crises can’t be the response,” he said. “We have to find solutions. Anti-Black racism and antagonisms are killing Black people at a high (rate) and we can’t turn a blind eye to that.”
UNLV will have a new president Aug. 24, following the hiring by university regents of Keith Whitfield, a provost, administrator and psychology professor at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Meana has been acting president since June 2018, and announced in February that she would not seek the position permanently.
Other local colleges also have responded to the national protests.
The College of Southern Nevada held forums in June titled “A Space to Breathe: A Conversation about Injustices Against Blacks in America” and “Standing in Solidarity: What’s Going On?”
College President Federico Zaragoza also issued a June 1 statement in response to Floyd’s death.
At Nevada State College in Henderson, school administrators released a letter July 7 about steps including a push for leadership team diversity — going from no Black administrators in 2016 to 16% now.
It said the number of Black first-year students has nearly doubled over the past five years and retention rates have improved, the letter said. The percentage of Black faculty remains at 6% and the percentage of Black administrative faculty and classified staff was 12% this year.
The college said the diversity push includes recruiting more Black students and helping them graduate; increasing diversity among faculty and staff; launching a new academic program to support Black students; and working to create a social justice lab on campus.