Photo of a crowd gathered at a Cleveland Black Lives Matter protest, with a focus on a Black man in front holding a set of keys
Zachery Cutner, 26, addresses protestors at a rally in Cleveland on May 30, following the the death of George Floyd. (John Kuntz/

Turning words into action

University holds Day of Dialogue to spur movement on race and justice issues—on campus and beyond

This article first appeared in a summer publication related to the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. More articles will appear in The Daily and on the university and school social media accounts in upcoming weeks; visit to see more.

“The relation subsisting between the white and black people of this country is the vital question of the age. In the solution of this question, the scholars of America will have to take an important … part.”

—Frederick Douglass, Western Reserve College Commencement Address,
July 12, 1854

In the days after the world witnessed the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer in late May, protests swept cities across the U.S., in some cases leading to looting and controversial police conduct. 

Amid this time of national reckoning, President Barbara R. Snyder and Provost Ben Vinson III sent a May 31 email that concluded with the famed abolitionist’s comments (above) to graduates. 

More than a century-and-a-half later, the two university leaders wrote: “As an institution of higher learning, we have a profound responsibility to the future. When it comes to this moment, how can we best begin to fulfill it?”

A dozen years after Case Western Reserve cited diversity and inclusion as core values in its strategic plan and created a cabinet-level position to focus on those issues, the university community has begun to engage in a time of deep reflection regarding how to demonstrate those values in more meaningful ways. 

A week and a half after posing that question, President Snyder and Provost Vinson sponsored a campus-wide Day of Dialogue. Topics included campus police and safety, health disparities, institutional racism, along with closed sessions specifically for student discussions and support. The event ended with a panel discussion involving the president and provost, as well as Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs Naomi Sigg and Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity Robert Solomon, who joined the university in February.

Among the topics raised were the lack of progress in increasing numbers for Black undergraduate students (from 6% of undergraduates in the 2008–09 academic year, to 5% in 2019–20) as well as Black faculty representation (since 2012, the number of Black tenured or tenure-track faculty has dropped from 27 to 26, while the proportion has climbed three-tenths, to 3.5%).

“It’s hard to ask for patience when we’ve been dealing with these issues for so long,” Solomon said in the day’s concluding leadership panel, “but we’re working to further develop those foundational things [already] in place.”

Snyder and Vinson charged Solomon and Sigg to analyze themes of the Day of Dialogue discussions and establish working groups and develop plans to address some of the most prominent issues. The two expect to present action steps, timelines and metrics in August. 

Another common issue centered on climate—specifically ways to make all members of the campus community feel welcome on campus. Sigg recommended building on the work of the well-regarded Diversity 360 program, which all undergraduates experience in orientation while staff and faculty can engage through departments or other organizations.

“We need to push to have a 2.0. How do we become a more anti-racist institution?” she asked. “Change the narrative by educating ourselves and each other. Stay hopeful.”