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Published February 22, 2021
To the UW community:
One week ago today, a racist attack was perpetrated during a Black History Month discussion conducted via Zoom by the University of Wyoming’s Black Studies Center. The words and images were so disturbing, hateful, violent and offensive that they shocked and outraged our community. Following the university’s administration’s statement condemning the detestable disruption -- and calling for a law enforcement investigation to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable -- Gov. Mark Gordon also issued a statement of condemnation on behalf of the entire state.
Since then, we have learned several things about the incident and its ramifications.
First, we’ve found that four of the five attackers leveraged anonymous VPN services physically located in the U.S. and Germany to hide their true locations. The attacker who did not use a VPN service appears to have connected from a residential broadband connection on the East Coast. The UW Police Department and the FBI are continuing the investigation. So far, there is no forensic evidence to tie any of the attackers to UW. We’re glad that is the case, but it does not reduce our outrage at this vile occurrence -- nor the imperative for us to take action to address problems with racism in our community. And we commit to holding members of our campus accountable if further investigation uncovers a UW connection.
Second, we know that UW is one of many schools across the country targeted by this type of attack. Universities ranging from the University of Southern California to Gonzaga University to Rutgers University have been “Zoom bombed” with similar hateful, violent words and images in recent weeks and months. UW’s network security analyst strongly suspects that all of the attacks are related and coordinated.
Third, and most importantly, we’ve learned just how seriously the incident has affected members of the UW community. While the racist attack appears to have come from outside the university, it understandably caused our students, employees of color and other people in our campus community to feel unsafe. It brought to the forefront the existence of hate speech and racist behavior here in our own community. And it has shone a brighter light on the need for the university to address ever-increasing efforts to increase our diversity as well the existence of racism -- so that we can be a welcoming, safe place for everyone, regardless of ability, age, country of origin, culture, economic class, ethnicity, gender identity, immigration status, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation or world view.
On Wednesday, UW’s Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee on Black Lives Matter and Systemic Racism conducted a listening session with about 50 people in attendance. Many of those participants and others expressed that the university’s initial statement about the racist attack was not strong enough; noted the concerns about safety for students of color and minority groups; said there’s not enough awareness about resources and efforts underway to address our problems; and made it clear that the university must do more.
I took these concerns to heart and committed to do better, and so do others working at UW.
On Friday, I had a meeting with UW marketing and communications team members. They are going to assist my office with developing a plan to better communicate diversity, equity, justice, and inclusion information and our commitment to inclusive excellence. This includes the Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion subcommittees.
For instance, the Community Engagement Subcommittee has partnered with me responding to an incident of hateful symbolic and verbal violence off campus toward a member of the UW campus community. This same subcommittee is working with me, law enforcement and others to stand up a program to build better community and law enforcement relationships. We are also working on actionable steps, communication protocols and response protocols with community partners to take proactive measures when hateful acts happen in our community.
One of the functions of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is to support recruitment efforts for employees and students who represent the rich diversity found in the United States and the world and, at the same time, create a campus community where everyone experiences they belong and can find what they need to thrive. People cannot thrive when they do not feel safe. I acknowledge that BIPOC, LGBTQ+, international, intersectional and other vulnerable social identities do not feel safe at all times in Laramie or Wyoming.
President Seidel and UW vice presidents (I am among this group) discussed at our cabinet meeting Thursday that we are committed to do the self-work when it comes to diversity, equity, justice and inclusion, starting now. At that meeting, we committed to doing the work necessary to model what we aspire our students and employees to be when it comes to creating a campus community that is welcoming and committed to inclusive excellence. We committed to modeling what it looks like to have a campus community where everyone regardless of their social identities can thrive, and experience safety and belonging.
Our first step toward that happened Thursday, this under the specific request of President Seidel. As the Chief Diversity Officer, I am taking the leadership role to coordinate this for the president and vice presidents. In my tenure at UW, this level of commitment has never been demonstrated before. I am truly inspired by and motivated by the leadership and support I receive from President Seidel and the commitment of my colleagues who are among the president’s cabinet members. This is also seen at the trustee level. We have a trustee on the Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and trustee participation during the summer check-ins and listening sessions the ODEI held for people of color and Black Lives Matter protests.
We have accomplished a great amount of work since founding the office in July 2017. We have not done a good job communicating our collective accomplishments with campus and community partners to the greater campus community. For instance, the vice president for student affairs and I co-chair the Bias Education and Response Team (BEET) to offer support, education and resources when incidents of harm, bias and hate happen in the UW campus community. This is possible through the collaborative support of campus community partners.
A second example is that ODEI leads the Recruitment and Retention Subcommittee. This subcommittee is creating a diversity hub and diversity audit that will support better campus communication and coordination that will make campus-wide resources and information available to you. UW Institutional Marketing has committed to assist ODEI in marketing and communication of resources and support.
It is my hope that the contents of this response will address the frustration and anger some people affiliated with UW are experiencing. If not, please contact me to share your thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This work is decentralized, and ODEI partners with numerous great leaders who assist in standing up the programs and services mentioned in this response. Many are also alumni, students and supporters on campus and in the community. We thank all of you, and we could not do all that we do without you.
In closing, all I have left to say is that we see you, we hear you, and we commit to doing better.
Emily Monago, Chief Diversity Officer