Fall 2020

In Vivo

A professional photo portrait of Dean Kate VandenBosch
Dean Kate VandenBosch

This spring and summer delivered difficulties unlike any we have ever seen. But take a moment. Take a breath. And take solace in the fact that we’ve made it this far, and we can see this through.

Another thing we can take solace in at CALS is the constancy of our purpose. Although more challenges will certainly come our way this year, our mission remains the same: To advance and share knowledge, discover solutions, and promote opportunities in food and agriculture, bioenergy, health, the environment, and human well-being. Through the spirit of cooperation, this work continues. Some of our efforts will help solve the problems caused by this pandemic — and perhaps help prevent the next one. I find comfort and inspiration in that.

But even as we pursue ambitious goals, there are times when external events prompt us to think about how we pursue them. So it was earlier this year with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and, more recently and closer to home, the shooting of Jacob Blake of Kenosha. These events spurred public outrage and a national conversation about addressing racial injustice through anti-racist actions. Like many of you, those of us in higher education are looking for ways to help.

Our campus is guided by an aspirational statement about the value of diversity; and it’s important, as an institution, to state clearly what we stand for. But our campus goals don’t necessarily coincide with what students of color experience when they’re here. This reality is influencing our priorities and actions at CALS, as it is for the whole UW campus. We’re looking to extend beyond a statement about what we value to become a truly anti-racist and inclusive place where all can thrive.

It’s a widely held view in our college that we need to work on both the overall student experience and our recruitment of faculty, staff, and students. One is not more important than the other — we will strive to achieve both together.

First, we need to better understand the obstacles that students with different lived experiences face each day on campus. I am making a point to ask our students and alumni of color about their UW experience, the adequacy of campus spaces for student activities outside the classroom, and what they think was or has been most supportive for them during their time at the university.

These conversations will help us understand where we should invest as a college to better support student success. They will also inform future training to strengthen bystander intervention by instructors and peer mentors when inclusion is lacking. Our faculty and staff will learn how to recognize instances where individual privilege and advantages vary and to assist our students in connecting to community and resources beyond the classroom when needed.

Beyond classroom relationships are a core part of the CALS experience, and we need to help ensure that students of color are forging these relationships successfully. One way to do this is to build on the achievements of QuickStart. Now in its third year, the QuickStart program is designed for incoming first-year students at CALS (see Off to a ‘QuickStart’ in the summer 2019 issue of Grow). In addition to letting students get a jump on their coursework, QuickStart links them to their peers, campus jobs, and campus resources, such as advising and health care, in meaningful ways.

This is a start. But our anti-racism work will continue because it is central to a major part of our mission: the promotion of human well-being. Because our students of color deserve a better campus experience. And because we want to invest in their success and take pride as they make their mark on the world.

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