On Wednesday, September 16, the Otis College Board of Trustees dedicated their yearly retreat to explore issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The retreat opened with a presentation by George O. Davis, the Executive Director of the California African American Museum, a recording of which is available to view below. Mei-Lee Ney, the chair of the Board, has made a financial commitment to move the DEI work at Otis forward with a $1 million dollar gift that will help with the major initiatives outlined by President Charles Hirschhorn in June. We asked Ney a few questions about the retreat and the Board’s commitment to these initiatives.
What was your hope for the Board Retreat?
Our Board Retreat this year followed on the heels of the George Floyd killing and the Black Lives Matter movement that ensued. As an institution, Otis’s work toward greater racial equity was already underway through its DEI Council, but the pressing need that many felt to take constructive action towards greater racial equity gave urgency to Otis’s efforts. Thus, I very much wanted the Board Retreat to focus exclusively on anti-racism, and not just talk about it, but actually to come away with steps that the Board could take that would make a real difference.
How do you see the role of the Board in DEI at Otis?
As the governance body of Otis College, the Board has an obligation to ensure that the College’s management takes definitive action to lead the efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion. It should not only support their efforts, but lend assistance where it is helpful.
What did George Davis bring to the conversation?
George Davis put the current unrest in historical context, tracing how prior reports that addressed structural racism have been largely ignored. He then gave us many suggestions for what we could do as an institution to increase Black participation at Otis among students, faculty, staff, and the Board.
What are the next steps for the Board in relation to DEI?
Board members have already begun to take some of the steps that George suggested and will increase those efforts as the process develops. Some of those steps include education through reading books and articles on racism and seeking out openings of exhibits of Black artists. Some are researching high schools that have a significant population of Black students and exploring ways to align their talent and interests with what Otis has to offer. We are also seeking a relationship with AABLI [African American Board Leadership Institute] to work on adding Black members to Otis’s Board. We are also exploring connections with Black-owned media, including print and radio, and exploring ways in which to personally engage with the Black community.
Otis has made a good start with the Black Creatives Institute, which is focused on attracting and retaining Black students. The Board will aid and support these efforts. The Board will work with the President and Senior Team to make it clear that greater racial equity and inclusion is part of the Otis mission.