As I write this letter welcoming you back to campus for the 2021 spring semester, I’m looking out my window at snow, snow, and more snow.
Bloomington in February is an apt metaphor for our times: yes, we’re still living through a pandemic (snow), masks and physical distancing are still required (snow), and we must practice patience before resuming normal activities (more snow).
When I walk into my classroom to teach wonderful first-year law students Constitutional Law, however, I feel nothing but gratitude. Masked and distanced we are, but we are also together, doing that learning that can best be done together. And we’re seeing increasing signs of hope: lower COVID-19 positivity rates and hospital admissions, increased testing and quicker turnaround times because of our own labs, and our readiness to serve the community as an Open Pod distribution site when enough vaccines become available for us to do so.
The successes of our testing program translate into vastly less opportunity for the virus to spread. This is possible because of your careful behavior, and for that, we are grateful. Dr. Aaron Carroll, professor of pediatrics at IU’s School of Medicine and a member of IU’s Medical Response Team (and the star of the frequent “Ask Aaron” webinar series), recently wrote a piece for The Atlantic outlining the hope and vision we’ll need to face the remaining challenges ahead and the science-led, data-informed, collaborative approach we took at IU to ensure that our students could come back to campus this past fall. We have relied on you to keep yourselves informed through our weekly emails and your cooperation with the testing program, and because you have, we are able to continue the important work of teaching, research, and service that our mission demands.
Equity and Justice
While the daily news about COVID-19 has improved, the disproportionate effect the virus has on people of color—and horrifying acts of racist violence across our nation and even in our nation’s Capitol—have highlighted persistent issues of inequality that require every institution to think carefully. Following are updates on a campus audit of how our practices support access and equity; updates from our Naming Review Committee, and the Japanese American Committee, which is working toward recommendations on how the university can best recognize and atone for its ban on admitting Japanese American students between 1942 and 1945; and a wonderful new film on the Archive of African-American Music and Culture (AAAMC).
Planning for Our Future: 360 Degree Student Equity Audit
Our university is committed to access for talented students of all economic backgrounds and anti-racism, which includes an active stance toward analyzing the effects of our policies across the board on minoritized communities. IU recently took part in an equity audit designed by the award-winning higher-education research firm Educational Advisory Board (EAB). As described by EAB, the “equity audit is a holistic assessment of policies and practices across eight areas that will keep equity at the center of financial, operational, and academic decision making for your COVID-19 response and recovery.” Recent work by Professors Bernice Pescosolido and Brea Perry have identified the pandemic as a period when inequality is increasing, and the audit joins other efforts, like the Pandemic Health Disparities Fund, designed to ensure we are keeping equity central to our practices.
Provost Professor of Education Lem Watson, Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, is leading IU’s 360-Degree Student Equity Audit. The IU Bloomington-specific audit worked across all campus-level operations to complete the audit, and we are now addressing actionable ways we can improve on a number of items.
Reckoning with Our Past: Campus Naming Committee & Japanese American Review Committee Update
During the time since the university was founded in 1820, our country, state, culture, and university have changed in momentous ways that include a series of ongoing reckonings with the values we insist must animate our institution. Ironically, understanding our animating values requires grappling with the inanimate—literally, with the names we have carved in the limestone that defines our physical campus. This fall, to continue the work begun by the Jordan Naming Review Committee that led to the renaming of several campus structures, we constituted a committee to review all named buildings and structures. The IU Bloomington Naming committee is co-chaired by Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion John Nieto-Philips and the Hon. Sarah Evans Barker, Senior Judge for the District of Southern Indiana. The committee’s goal is to complete a thoughtful review and make recommendations to me, the President, and the Board if a name fails to reflect the university’s commitments. Given the large number of named structures on our campus, the Committee had to choose a beginning point. It chose the places our students call home: the residence halls. Members of Bloomington Naming subcommittees are working closely with IU Archives on the first tier of this review, and they will flag potentially problematic names for second-tier review and discussion. The committee will meet this semester to determine if any RPS structures, in the context of IU’s naming policy, should be forwarded to the Board of Trustees for removal consideration. Please know that review of each individual case is incredibly nuanced, and that we are committed to making this process transparent. Many thanks to professors Wendy Gamber and John Nieto-Phillips of the IU History department for turning this experience into a class that allows students to think through the complicated questions involved in whether or not a name should remain.
In July 2020, President McRobbie issued a statement of regret on behalf of the university for its ban on admissions for Japanese-American students during World War II. Former IU student and bicentennial intern Eric Langowski worked closely with University Historian James Capshew to bring visibility to this unfortunate moment in IU’s history. McRobbie directed IU Bloomington to appoint a committee, which the campus did in Fall 2020. This committee's charge includes planning an event that will describe the exclusion and internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, and which will specifically address IU’s failure to admit 12 Japanese American students during this period. Ruth N. Halls Associate Professor Karen Inouye, Chair of the Department of American Studies, is Chairing the committee, which also includes:
- Nick Cullather, Professor of History and International Studies
- Karen Inouye, Ruth Halls Associate Professor of History and Chair of American Studies
- James Nakagawa, Ruth Halls Professor of Photography
- Lisa Doi, Student
- Eric Langowski, Alumni
- Ashlyn Nelson, Associate Professor at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
- Dina Okamoto, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity
- Scott O’Bryan, Associate Professor of History and Chair of East Asian Languages and Cultures Department
The committee is currently discussing ideas for permanent campus commemorative markers and for an event to be hosted in Fall 2021 or Spring 2022.
Celebrating Our Present: AAAMC Speaks
Several new and exciting storytelling efforts shine a light on our traditions and collections. On Feb. 12, part one of a phenomenal five-part docuseries centered on the legacy of Black music, “AAAMC Speaks,” launched on the IU Bloomington YouTube channel. The multimedia team from the Provost's Office who created the series with AAAMC Director Tyron Cooper live-messaged with audience members—including Kool Muhammad Bayyan of Kool and the Gang—while the episode played, generating a much-needed sense of gathering and community.
The series highlights the wealth of materials in IU’s Archives of African American Music and Culture—including awards, first album pressings, performance posters and programs, original song lyrics, and sheet music—through interviews with influential Black music industry leaders and seminal scholars in Black music research. "AAAMC Speaks" is hosted by Tyron Cooper, director of AAAMC, who conceptualized the project with directors Ethan Gill and Haley Semian. View the trailer.
Episode releases, accompanied by virtual watch parties, will go live monthly through June. Friday’s episode featured industry veteran and executive Eddie Gilreath, and future episodes will feature composer and musician Evelyn Simpson-Curenton, alto saxophonist Michael Burton, IU’s own Portia Maultsby, and avant-garde jazz and hard bop double bassist Reggie Workman.
Another series, our IU 2020 four-year documentary project, which followed 12 students throughout the entirety of their IU careers, was honored this week with a Silver Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. We are looking forward to the IU Cinema debuts of the final six films through two virtual events in May.
A New Venue for Public Arts and Humanities
Finally, we were delighted to host a virtual opening reception Feb. 9 for our new Gayle Karch Cook Center for Public Arts and Humanities. Housed in newly restored Maxwell Hall, the center brings together the spectacular arts and humanities work being done on campus and serves as a bridge to the downtown Bloomington arts and culture scene.
Named after IU alumna Gayle Karch Cook—an artist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and historical preservationist whose generous gift helped make the renovation possible—the center houses the Arts and Humanities Council, the College Arts and Humanities Institute, the Center for Rural Engagement, IU Corps, Traditional Arts Indiana, Platform: An Arts and Humanities Research Laboratory, and the Book Lab, a new center dedicated to exploring the history of the book and contemporary bookmaking.
The opening introduced our community to two exhibits, which visitors are encouraged to experience online or in person, following campus safety protocols.
We look forward to seeing all the ways this gorgeous, inspiring space sparks ideas and conversation for years and generations to come. I can clearly visualize a future when we will safely gather for exhibitions, performances, readings, discussion, and the magic that occurs when we gather to celebrate the arts.
Thank you so much for all you are doing. I am grateful to every single one of you for your diligence and persistence, and for being the light for each other.