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'Room for improvement': UNC System's racial equity task force wraps up, makes recommendations
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'Room for improvement': UNC System's racial equity task force wraps up, makes recommendations

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A UNC System task force has laid out a plan to help North Carolina's public universities combat discrimination and promote racial equity.

After six months of work, the UNC System Racial Equity Task Force unveiled its final report Wednesday at the UNC Board of Governors meeting. Its 65-page report contains six broad recommendations and 28 suggested actions aimed at advancing racial and ethnic diversity, equity and inclusion across the 17-campus system.

Reginald Ronald Holley, the Board of Governors member from Southport who served as the task force's chairman, said there is "no finer institution" of higher learning in the nation than the UNC System. But, he added, the 17-campus system isn't perfect.

"In our quest for excellence in the space of racial inclusion, equity and diversity, our system has a lot of room for improvement," Holley said. "But we cannot embrace this idea on an intermittent basis."

The task force's recommendations in order are:

• The UNC System office should hire a senior-level executive to carry out the task force's recommendations and oversee future equity initiatives across the university system.

• Recruitment, retention and promotion practices should be improved to build a racially diverse student body workforce and university leadership. Actions recommended by the task force include increasing financial aid and college counseling, recruiting more students of color for teacher training programs and diversifying campus boards of trustees.

• The university system should do a better job of collecting race and equity data at each campus. That information should be used to track progress or declines in racial equity efforts.

• Students, faculty and staff members across the university system, especially those in supervisory roles, should be trained in racial and cultural issues and to recognize bias.

• Individual campuses and the university system should set up programs to support racial equity and inclusion. These programs, for instance, could help students of color stay in school and graduate and help close a 19-point gap in graduation rates between white and Black students.

• University police departments should have more consistent training and procedures across institutions. The task force recommended that all officers be equipped with body-worn cameras and non-lethal devices in addition to firearms. The group also suggested that campus police agencies refer more students to counseling or the student conduct process rather than prosecuting them criminally.

The task force came into being about two weeks after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man and North Carolina native. In early June, the leaders of the groups that represent faculty, staff members and student governments across the university system recommended an anti-racism effort.

Former UNC System President Bill Roper and current Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey formed the task force the next day.

The 12-member group is comprised of five Board of Governors representatives plus faculty and staff members from UNC System schools. It received input from more than 20,000 UNC System students and employees through surveys, focus groups and online town hall meetings. Throughout the process, committee members said they heard from many students and employees of color who said they felt overwhelmed and undervalued.

Ramsey and current UNC System President Peter Hans thanked the group Jan. 20 for its work. Hans noted that recent UNC System efforts are already addressing some of the task force's concerns.

"We live in one of the most diverse states in the country, and our university must offer a welcoming and supporting environment for students, staff and faculty of all backgrounds," Hans said. "There are people in every part of the state concerned about fairness (and) justice, and our success will go a long way in determining theirs."

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