Throughout this year, I have heard many thoughtful people say that we are living through a historic time. While true, what is sometimes lost is that we — as individuals in 2020 — can shape this moment ourselves.

October 22, 2020

Dear Emory Community: 

Throughout this year, I have heard many thoughtful people say that we are living through a historic time. While true, what is sometimes lost is that we — as individuals in 2020 — can shape this moment ourselves. History isn’t simply happening to us — we are making it. And nowhere is this more evident than in the efforts of Emory community members who for many years, and especially during this summer, have taken it upon yourselves to engage in and stand up for racial justice. The Emory community, and specifically our students, has pointed the way forward during this crucial moment, and the university is continuing to make progress based on your inspiration, energy, and example.

One of my goals is for Emory to become a more inclusive campus. We have a lot of work to do in this area, and today, I’m writing to report progress on the path to achieve this goal, which I announced in August soon after beginning as president.

Launching the Task Force on Untold Stories and Disenfranchised Populations

In response to renewed calls for Emory to examine its founding narratives, I have reappointed and recharged the Task Force on Untold Stories and Disenfranchised Populations, which was established in 2019. This task force will help tell the story of Emory’s past with attention to enslaved persons with ties to Emory and Indigenous peoples on whose land Emory’s campus was built. 

The task force is charged with reviewing opportunities for recognizing, observing, and memorializing underrecognized contributions. I have asked for advisory recommendations on the following:

  1. Honoring the labor of enslaved persons, including recommendations for memorializing the enslaved persons who built the Oxford campus.

  2. Developing criteria and processes for awarding scholarships for descendants of enslaved persons with ties to Emory.

  3. Acknowledging the contributions of Indigenous peoples.

  4. Developing select educational and experiential opportunities.

The task force is expected to submit its findings and recommendations to me by April 1, 2021. 

Establishing the Descendants Endowment

Emory has established a Descendants Endowment capable of supporting two undergraduate student scholarships each year. One of the first steps taken by the Task Force on Untold Stories and Disenfranchised Populations will be to develop criteria and processes for awarding these scholarships to students descended from enslaved peoples.

The task force will present their recommendations in April 2021. We anticipate that the first student scholarships will be awarded by Fall 2022. Additional discussions are ongoing about ways to support student descendants of the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations on whose land Emory was built.

Launching the University Committee on Naming Honors

In August, I announced my decision to reappoint the University Committee on Naming Honors and directed it to expedite its work, with membership that is representative of campus constituencies, including adding additional students to the committee. The membership of this advisory committee is nearly finalized, and I will charge the group with reviewing contested historic names on buildings, spaces, programs, scholarships, and other celebratory titles that honor individuals. 

The committee will submit a report with a summary of findings and potential recommendations to me by April 1, 2021. 

Planning a conference on the legacy of slavery in higher education

Also in August, I announced that Emory would plan a conference on the legacy of slavery and racism at Emory and other universities, and a planning group will be formed. Anticipated for Fall 2021, this conference will be both retrospective and prospective, looking back at how Emory faculty, staff, and students honored our histories and legacies in the past, and ahead to future actions.

The conference will engage faculty; undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; and postdoctoral fellows from across the university. A keynote address by an invited scholar in the field will be part of the conference, as well.

Presenting the prior demands of Black students

In August, I asked Dean Yolanda Cooper, the University Librarian, to archive the prior demands of earlier generations of Black students at Emory so that they are available on the university’s website. The library has made progress and team members have begun publishing a series of articles on Black student activism at Emory. The first three articles are now available. In addition, university archivist John Bence has hired two graduate students to develop an accessible resource about Black student activism at Emory. They will also assist with building out a broader set of resources to facilitate access to this information. 

Reviewing policing at Emory

This summer, Emory engaged Justice & Sustainability Associates (JSA), led by Don Edwards, to hold conversations with students, faculty, and staff about university policing. JSA organized discussions across campus and has reviewed Emory’s use-of-force policies, training, and operational transparency. The team has looked, as well, at data sharing, communication, and the role and mission of university policing.

JSA is helping us develop a partnership structure that will bring community members into the process of helping us address our public safety needs. Before the end of the semester, Emory Police Department Chief Rus Drew and other university leaders will share a vision for developing and implementing a community-based policing model. 

Renovations to affinity group spaces for students  

Emory has committed to renovating and enhancing student affinity spaces to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for our students. Dean Enku Gelaye and I have continued our focus to improve existing spaces, which are on track to be completed by August 2021. We are also collaborating with students on programming and design associated with the relocation of affinity group spaces to Cox Hall, which could be as early as Fall 2022.  

Implementing a new general education requirement on race and ethnicity

A new general education requirement (GER) that focuses on race and ethnicity for undergraduate students in Emory College of Arts and Sciences (ECAS), with the support of Oxford College, will be rolled out in Fall 2021. The purpose of this requirement is to provide students with opportunities to learn about race and ethnicity; political, economic, and social exclusions; and the effects of structural inequality. 

Dean Michael Elliott has named the committee that will work on the GER implementation, and it has begun working on the criteria by which to evaluate the courses. The committee will soon be reviewing existing courses that could fulfill this GER; in the spring, the committee will put out a call for new courses that could satisfy the requirement.


These are some of the actions the university is taking to make our academic community more inclusive. There are also many initiatives taking place at the school, center, and program levels, initiated by students, faculty, and staff across the university and health care units. These efforts have been inspiring. I want to thank you all for dedicating your time, energy, and vision to taking these important steps. I will continue to keep you informed in the months ahead.  


Gregory L. Fenves signature

Gregory L. Fenves