On Friday, Jan. 13, Auburn University President Christopher Roberts announced the formation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, the newest iteration of groups designated to improving diversity on campus.
The committee will consist of 15 members and provide direct subject matter expertise to the president concerning the University's ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. However, the committee will decide on meeting times, member term lengths and the committee's level of authority at their first meeting, to be announced later.
Interim Provost Vini Nathan, the committee chair, will select members from across the University community. For example, members will be selected from the Black Student Union, the Black Alumni Council and the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, to name a few.
Forming a permanent body to monitor the university's DEI projects and policies was recommended to the president by the Auburn Presidential Task Force for Opportunity and Equity.
The task force held its final meeting on September 29, 2022, where it updated the president on the work it had accomplished since its formation in June 2020. This work included building and enforcing DEI training for faculty and staff, offering incentives to recruit Black employees and students, and increasing the minimum wage for Auburn employees from $7.25 to $14.50.
University President Jay Gogue created the task force in response to the murder of George Floyd, by on-duty Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in May 2020.
"While we all have a lot of questions, it is clear that something has to change, both in society and on our campus," said Gogue in a letter sent to the University on June 5, 2020. "As your president, I commit that we as an institution will seek meaningful action to confront the pain, fear, systemic racism and injustice faced by the black community."
By August of the same year, the task force published its mission statement, defining it as "a representative team invested in developing an equitable and inclusive Auburn University."
As the task force matured, it coalesced around six topics, each represented by a sub-committee that identified actionable tasks to improve DEI.
These sub-committees focused on promoting DEI training and education, Black faculty recruitment and retention, Black staff recruitment and retention, Black undergraduate student recruitment and retention, Black graduate student recruitment and retention and the formation of the proposed Institute for African American and Black Studies.
Most universities across the country have seen a decline in admissions since 2010, but Auburn bucks the trend. The Auburn student body increased by more than 6,000 students, from 25,000 in 2010 to 31,000 in 2022.
However, the number of Black students at Auburn has decreased by 21% (from 1,978 to 1,560) during the same period. This trend reflects the national decrease in Black student enrollment in university programs, which is also down by 21% from 2009 to 2021.
The university saw an increase in white students (+ 4,546), Latinx students (+ 678), and Asian students (+ 392) from 2010 to 2022. Additionally, the university saw an increase in students identifying as "two or more races" (+ 684) from 2015 to 2022, first reported in 2015.
In 2015, Auburn launched a different committee, the Auburn University Diversity Climate Study Steering Committee, charged with conducting the 2016 Auburn University Climate Survey.
The survey had a sample size of more than 1200 students, faculty, staff and administrators. The survey found that 49% of participants said Black/African American student recruitment and retention did not work well at Auburn University. Additionally, 40% said the presence of diverse administration and staff did not work well either.
"I look forward to the work being undertaken by this new President's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee," Roberts said in his letter to the university.
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Ethan Flynn, sophomore in journalism and finance, is the campus editor at The Auburn Plainsman. He has been with The Plainsman since Fall, 2022.