A Message from Dean Hill and Dean Straughan

To: Undergraduate Faculty and Staff
From: Lena Hill and Rob Straughan
Date: June 8, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Dean Straughan and I write to you following another weekend of protests across our country and the world. We share the sense of frustration, anger, and indignation many of you feel. Because of our different backgrounds, we come to this latest example of racial oppression in our country with unique perspectives.

As a black woman whose mother suffered from gun violence perpetrated by white teens whose actions went unpunished in 1950s Alabama and whose father was expelled from college and harassed by the KKK as a result of his participation in Civil Rights protests, I have been particularly anguished by the death of George Floyd and especially inspired by the peaceful protests. Though my parents suffered racial violence almost seven decades ago, as the wife of a black man who has experienced being pulled over by policemen for unclear reasons and the mother of a black son whom I fear may one day know this reality, I cannot help but view current events through the lens of our national history and confounding present.


Unlike Dean Hill, my family's roots are in small towns across Texas. While I can't say racism was obvious everywhere I looked growing up in suburban Houston, neither can I say it was nowhere to be seen. It was into my adult years, graduate school and beyond, that some of the less obvious forms of racism revealed themselves. I have talked to many W&L graduates who have noted similar revelations in the years following their time as students. These alumni force me to ask, "How can we accelerate such understanding in the students with whom we work?"


As undergraduate deans, our distinct cultural histories evoke the range of experiences represented across the College and the Williams School. Yet we are united in our commitment to ensuring the W&L undergraduate education reflects the needs of the world around us. The messages President Dudley issued last week powerfully articulate how W&L and the liberal arts mission contribute to this work. In support of his unwavering investment in improving diversity and inclusion, we write to you with forward-looking eyes that commit - and ask you to commit along with us - to the work ahead. We thank many of you for the energy you have already dedicated to this work, and we challenge you to hold us accountable in the years to come.

We are committed to:

  • An Africana Studies speaker series on the content, context, and consequences of black protest to educate students, staff, and faculty;
  • Continued efforts to build on recent success in recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority faculty and staff even amidst decreased resources due to COVID-19;
  • Intensified steps toward diversifying our curriculum to ensure every student graduates from W&L prepared to thrive and lead in a diverse world;
  • Expanded opportunities for faculty and staff bias and cultural competency training to empower more effective teaching, hiring, and leadership;
  • Expanded partnership with Alumni Engagement to support programs like Black Alumni Reunion Weekend and to include diverse alumni on academic boards;
  • Increased resources for mentoring and supporting diverse faculty;
  • Continued collaboration with and support of local organizations who serve diverse constituencies.

Our collective success depends on faculty and staff leadership, action, and support. Progress depends on individual investment that lasts beyond the passion of the moment. Advancement depends on a willingness to lean into this work by showing up at minority student events, speaker series, training sessions, and other opportunities associated with increasing diversity and inclusion. We take seriously the charge to impact change at W&L, and we look forward to continuing this work with you.

Lena Hill and Rob Straughan