Introduction to RIT’s Action Plan for Race and Ethnicity

RIT’s commitment to diversity and social justice is a core value of the university, evolving over time since its founding in 1829.

RIT was one of the earliest schools to admit women, and the only national university with an entire college dedicated to the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing populations.

With the 1968 founding of the student-organized Black Awareness Coordinating Committee (BACC) and the attention its members brought to the low representation of Black students at RIT, increasing the number of non-white students became a priority of the university. RIT also introduced a “Black studies program” in 1968 that offered courses in African-American History; Nativism, Racism, and Anti-Semitism; West African History; and Sociology of Intergroup Relations.1 RIT was clearly in the vanguard of such curricular innovations: the first Black Studies department in the nation was founded at San Francisco State College in 1968.

Two group shots of the Black Awareness Coordinating Committee.

Between 1976 and 1984, enrollment of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students was low (see Appendix A), ranging from ~ 3.1% to 5% 1, but in line with other U.S. schools. The first concrete diversity plan for the Institute was developed in 1980, with the goal of increasing “the number of minority and disadvantaged students in the RIT community, both faculty and students.”2

From the early 1980’s on (see Appendix A), the university’s commitment to diversifying student, faculty, and staff populations intensified as reflected by the development of new offices, positions, services, plans, and celebrations. Today, RIT uses the Diversity Index (see Appendix B), to paint a picture of how student, faculty, and staff diversity have evolved over time.

Within higher education, RIT has one of the largest commitments in the nation, both programmatically and financially, to diversity, equity and inclusion. RIT’s Division of Diversity and Inclusion, headed by a vice president, employs 38 staff members who execute more than 80 programs and initiatives facilitated by an annual budget of approximately $4.8M, including grant-funds. This expenditure does not include special scholarship programs such as the Destler/Johnson Rochester City Scholars.

These efforts have not only borne fruit internally; they have garnered national attention. In 2015, RIT was named a “Diversity Champion” by the national magazine INSIGHT Into Diversity. The INSIGHT editors write:

“Known for visionary leadership, Diversity Champions are institutions that set the standard for thousands of other campus communities striving for diversity and inclusion. They develop successful strategies and programs, which then serve as models of excellence for other institutions. Diversity Champion schools exceed everyday expectations, often eclipsing their own goals.”3

The honor was repeated in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and, most recently, in 2020.

This said, RIT is always looking to improve. Indeed, RIT must improve. RIT acknowledges the longstanding history of the unfair and oppressive treatment in higher education of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ communities. Recognizing this as well as the country’s growing racial disparities, RIT is more committed than ever to grow in its diversity and create an environment that allows diversity to thrive. This plan, specifically, is designed to address anti-racism against Blacks because that is the arena where the most progress is needed. There is a strong feeling amongst the RIT community that RIT 1) educate the RIT community about the history of racism and its ongoing impact, both at and beyond RIT; 2) enhance a greater sense of belonging for all to the RIT community; 3) employ greater outreach, recruitment and retention of African American, Latino American (Latinx) and Native American (AALANA)4 students, faculty and staff; 4) require diversity education at all levels; and 5) convey the essence of RIT’s diversity story in all its form. In some cases, implementation of the suggested improvements will require redeployment of existing resources to new, higher priorities. In other cases, the university will need to generate new resources.

Even before the spring of 2020, a sizable gap remained between where the university is now and where it needs to be in order to deliver fully on the promises of equal access, equal opportunities, and equal respect for all students, faculty and staff. Parts of the current RIT strategic plan—Greatness Through Difference: 2018-2025—address this gap, as do various divisional goals and strategies.

The summer’s tragedies have confirmed RIT’s institutional goals and plans, injecting a sense of urgency and passion, which led the university administration to convene, in the summer (2020), a number of discussion groups of students, staff, and faculty where they shared their horror, anger, and confusion at the precipitate degradation of the nation’s racial climate, their own stories of racial inequities, and recommendations for immediate action that should be taken by the university to fight the racist practices and impulses all too present in the society at large, of which RIT is a part.

The stories and recommendations shared in these summer conversations are the backbone of this Action Plan. It is a plan animated by urgency, by the ultimate necessity of RIT redoubling its commitment to racial justice, and to expending the resources necessary to put the commitment into action—energy, time, thought, and dollars.

Recommendations from the summer fell into three major areas, or Pillars, each of which contains several broad initiatives that are supported by multiple action steps.

1  It’s difficult to know what is meant by “program” here, since concentrations in the College of General Studies, which were the first collection of related courses that could be called a program, were not introduced until the early 1980’s.

2  RIT Archive Collections. Minority students collection. Historical Information for Minority Students at RIT. 1906, 1961 – 1989.

3  INSIGHT Into Diversity. Diversity Champions. 2020.

4  Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. From Minority to AALANA, What’s in a Name? Diverse Issues in Higher Education. March 2, 2010.