Welcome to the 20th Diversity and Inclusion Summit. Thank you for being here for this important campus event.

Today is Veteran's Day and I would like to encourage you to take a moment and consider the debt of gratitude we owe our veterans. Without their service and dedication to our nation, our freedom and liberties would not be as secure as they are today. The adage that “freedom isn't free” is true. In addition to their valuable service to our nation, veterans form an important segment of our campus community as students, faculty and staff. Their experiences enrich our campus environment.

Carlotta Walls Lanier, one of the Little Rock Nine, was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Diversity and Inclusion Summit

Carlotta Walls Lanier, one of the Little Rock Nine, was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Diversity and Inclusion Summit

A campus environment rich in diversity makes us all richer. The exchange of ideas and knowledge with people of different backgrounds and perspectives benefits us all, and is a hallmark of higher education. We are committed to it at CU. A diverse campus is diversity in all its forms: ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, religious preferences, socio-economic status, age, intellectual, political and geographic diversity.

The Diversity and Inclusion Summit Planning Committee has built a tremendous program, with very compelling speakers and panels over two days, as this year marks several landmark civil rights anniversaries.

I would like to thank the CU-Boulder Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement; Vice Chancellor Bob Boswell; and Assistant Vice Chancellor Alphonse Keasley, for their work in coordinating this vital conversation.

I would like to thank the Student Affairs Diversity Committee for their participation in this event.

I also would like to acknowledge the work of the Chancellor's five standing advisory committees.

  • The Chancellor's Committee on Race and Ethnicity
  • The Chancellor's Committee on Women
  • The Chancellor's Campus Accessibility Committee
  • The Standing Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues
  • And the Chancellor's Diversity Advisory Board

And I would like to thank our partners in the Diversity and Inclusion Summit, the city of Boulder and Boulder County.

The top thing I want to convey today is that we know we have a great distance to travel on diversity on this campus, but we can be proud of the progress we have made.

We understand the perceptions of different communities, we understand there is trust to be built, that there are past misunderstandings and transgressions to be rectified, but we are committed to rectifying them. We've heard the voices of our communities in conversation with us as leaders, and we've heard their voices in the “I Too Am CU” campaign that our students started here last year, inspired by Harvard students.

My own life and career have been shaped by a great diversity of people, experiences and ideas. I grew up in a diverse working-class coal and steel town, and I went on to teach high school near there. I understand the power of diversity to transform the individual, and to strengthen the conscience and commitment of the individual.

And I understand the work we have to do and the mountains we have yet to climb. But progress has been made. We're proud of our growing diversity on campus as reflected in our fall census.

This fall's freshman class is the best-prepared and most diverse class in our history. One-quarter of freshmen are under-represented students, a new high. Overall in the student body we now have 6,000 under-represented degree-seeking students — 20 percent of the student body — also a record — and they are graduating at the near-equivalent rate as the overall student population.

But also understand there is much work to do. We must ensure a warm and welcoming social climate on campus for all students. Over the last six months we have taken a number of steps to make sure that happens.

In June I appointed education and civil rights attorney Valerie Simons to a new important position: Director of Institutional Equity and Compliance and Title IX Coordinator. This newly created position reports directly to me and has campuswide oversight of a single unified unit for all complaints of discrimination.

In addition Student Affairs is creating a more welcoming and supportive climate for all students in residence halls, social programs, campus activities, and all the offices that provide student services.

The Cultural Unity and Engagement Center has created a new model for serving and supporting students. They are working to help students from diverse backgrounds, including first-generation students, which is near and dear to my heart as a first generation student myself.

As part of our commitment, I have initiated the development of a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan to create a common understanding of CU-Boulder's vision, mission and strategic goals regarding diversity and inclusive excellence for our students, faculty and staff.

We are all committed — as a community — to maintaining a positive environment on campus, and we will continue to build that environment.

I mentioned that we are honoring a number of civil rights anniversaries this year. Last May marked the 60th Anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education, outlawing racial segregation in public education.

Nine school children, known as the Little Rock Nine, tested that decision in 1957. One of the Little Rock Nine is our keynote speaker today, Carlotta Walls Lanier, whom we will hear from in just a few moments. Generations of students have benefitted from her courage and legacy, including her own children who attended integrated schools.

Mrs. Lanier entrusted her daughter, Brooke, to us and we are proud that she is an alumna of CU-Boulder. When Carlotta and each member of the Little Rock Nine were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, the nation's highest civilian honor, President Clinton said: “It fell to these young nine Americans, when they were children, to become our teachers. Let us not forget to heed their lessons.”

That is our call today. Let us not forget to heed their lessons. Carlotta Walls Lanier blazed a path for us that we must continue to go down.