UNCG rock Black Lives Matter

The UNCG Rock, located near the university's main dining hall, serves as a message board for the campus community.

Just calling your attention to something: UNCG launched a new effort on racial equity this week. It's called, simply enough, Racial Equity at UNCG, and you can find it at racialequity.uncg.edu.

The effort is led by two UNCG faculty members: Julia Mendez Smith, a psychology professor; and Andrea Hunter, a professor of human development and family studies and a former chair of the university's Faculty Senate. Both are Chancellor's Fellows for Campus Climate, which means they work on UNCG efforts around diversity and inclusion.

The new website contains several things, including links relating to racial equity for students and employees, reading lists, a schedule of upcoming events on diversity topics and recent university statements on race, racism and related issues.

"This is a first step toward collecting and sharing our voices, actions and resources in an effort to stimulate conversation and fuel change," Smith and Hunter wrote in a news release announcing the new website. "We are creating a platform for people to share their own materials, thoughts and experiences. We also want to provide a mechanism for anyone to share with us, in confidence, issues they may face and situations related to racism they may encounter that require our focus and our attention.

"We see this site as a work in progress, as an evolving and ongoing dialog. We know it is not complete, but it is a step in the right direction. It is one opportunity to put a focus in one place for the first time on these issues that are both deeply personal and broadly systemic. And there is much more on the way — scholarly material, teaching innovations, event information and more as the site evolves. When you visit the site, we encourage you to share your voice, your actions, your research, and your events so our campus community can engage with one another on this important topic."

So why this and why now? The issues revolving around George Floyd's death have brought race and racial issues to the forefront of the national consciousness. But racial and equity issues aren't new on college campuses. UNCG and lots of other higher education institutions have been working on diversity and inclusion for years, some better than others and maybe not all that well, if you listen to what Black students have been saying.

UNCG doesn't have slavery in its attic like, say, Wake Forest University and some other area schools founded before the Civil War, and there aren't any Confederate statues on campus. UNCG also is four years removed from renaming the most overt connection — the former Aycock Auditorium — to white supremacy on its campus.

But UNCG was founded in 1891 as a school for women (white women, it should be noted), which means the university has a long tradition of educating people from underrepresented groups. These days, UNCG is a majority-minority institution. White students are still the largest demographic group on campus, but they're slightly less than half (47 percent as of the spring semester) of total enrollment. Twenty-seven percent of UNCG's students are Black, which is a larger percentage than at any other UNC System school except for the historically black universities such as N.C. A&T and other minority-serving institutions. UNCG's student body has grown and changed dramatically over a century, and this new effort seems like a very clear statement that these issues are important to UNCG leaders as well as the campus community.

UNCG's racial equity effort, as Hunter and Smith noted, is well within UNCG's wheelhouse of serving "as a forum for open, honest discussion on even the most complex topics." It'll be worth paying attention to these conversations — and actions — on campus going forward.

Staff writer John Newsom covers higher education for the News & Record of Greensboro and the Winston-Salem Journal.

Have something to say about this blog post? Email him at john.newsom@greensboro.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @JohnNewsomNR.

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