Texas A&M University’s 45-member Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion met virtually for the first time this week to set up a schedule, break into four subcommittees and talk about the group’s next steps.
The members will meet again around Aug. 17, with another meeting following in the middle of September and the last scheduled for October.
President Michael K. Young announced the initial formation of the commission at the beginning of July, charging the members with addressing racial intolerance and historical representations such as statues, policies and practices. The future of the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue on campus — which has been the subject of multiple protests in recent weeks — will be part of the group’s focus.
The four subcommittees include Community Engagement, Data & Policies, Values & Mission, and Campus Culture & Climate.
Commission co-chair Jimmy Williams said subcommittee chairs are working with their teams now to identify exactly what they will each focus on and prioritize the problems they want to solve. Williams and commission co-chair John E. Hurtado will review and approve the goals by the second meeting. Williams said he and Hurtado will meet with each subcommittee individually before the three main commission meetings that will bring all 45 members together each time.
“I think it’s important that we allow the teams to do their research and draw their conclusions and priorities,” Williams said. “We’ve got a very good team of diverse folks, good leaders, and we think it’s important to allow them to do that.”
Hurtado is an aerospace engineering professor and deputy director and chief technology officer of the Bush Combat Development Complex at RELLIS. A&M graduate Williams is executive director and distinguished service professor of the Engineering and Technology Innovation Management program at Carnegie Mellon University.
Williams said that while each of the four groups will probably discuss the Sul Ross statue in some capacity, he believes the campus culture and climate subcommittee likely will focus on it the most. Williams said he does not want to undermine the importance of addressing the statue, but also said he and Hurtado want the commission to view issues in a broad way so that other subjects are not overlooked.
Ross was a Confederate general who later served as governor of Texas before becoming A&M’s president in 1891.
“[The Sul Ross statue] absolutely needs to be addressed, but we’ve encouraged the teams to look at a lot of the issues,” Williams said. “You have to look at structural racism, too. And you have to look at what the Confederacy meant back then, and what does it mean today. We don’t want to narrow our focus such that we may miss a lot of the other opportunities.”
In the coming weeks, the group will create a website to update the public on the status of the commission’s work. There will also be opportunities for people to engage and weigh in throughout the process.
Subcommittees will work now through October and submit a final report with their recommendations by mid-November. The report will be sent to Young and the A&M system Board of Regents, with the board having the final say on how to move forward. The report will be made available to the public.
The commission is made up of 14 current students, 12 former students, 16 faculty and staff, the chair of the Board of Regents as well as one of its members and the president of Prairie View A&M University. The subcommittee chairs are Tiana J. Sanford, Julie Harlin, Stephen Ruth and Cynthia Hernandez.
Williams said he believes that the commission’s design — which allows subcommittees to identify problems to solve and encourages members to listen with empathy — will help them to discover facts and findings that are impactful for the university.
“I absolutely expect some very good, meaningful findings from which the president and the board of regents can make some decisions,” he said.