All the good that we can do

June 1, 2020

Dear Members of the Southern Illinois University System Community,

Over the last few months, we have been consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, and my notes to all o f you have focused primarily on how we are handling it and our planning for the future. However, today, I feel compelled to address a different issue.

As someone who has been a vocal advocate for the importance of diversity and inclusion throughout my life, the past couple of months have been extremely discouraging and very sad. I am not sure I can even find the right words to express all that I have been feeling. My heart goes out to all African-Americans who have been impacted by these recent horrible events, as well as the far too many that have preceded them. While I can never completely understand what you are feeling because I have not experienced all that you have, I can say that I see you and I hear you and I am always here to support you.

I know feelings of discouragement and sadness can easily lead to feelings of hopelessness. Even now, I refuse to be hopeless. While none of us can solve all of the problems related to racism and prejudice, there are things we can do to make a difference. On my first day as president of the Southern Illinois University System, I signed the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge. The pledge is an initiative started a few years ago by PricewaterhouseCoopers CEO Tim Ryan, who is a role model for me. His actions and words always encourage me to do better. In an email on Friday, Tim asked for people willing to participate in a CEO Task Force to determine how we can do more inside and outside of our organizations, and I have volunteered to help. Even if I am not selected, I hope the task force will provide useful advice for all of us. 

The CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge is a commitment to do a number of things including:

  • We will continue to make our workplaces trusting places to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion. 
  • We will implement and expand unconscious bias education.
  • We will share best—and unsuccessful—practices.
  • We will create and share strategic inclusion and diversity plans with our board of directors.

Earlier this year, I formed several system-wide working groups, and one of those is focused on diversity and inclusion. I expect the suggestions from the working group to include strategies for how we can best fulfill all of these commitments and, frankly, go beyond them. If any of you have suggestions for how to achieve our diversity and inclusion goals, please feel free to contact me directly. 

More immediately, we will begin plans for a virtual conversation of understanding. Participants in the pledge traditionally have hosted a day of understanding in February. However, it is clear that something more immediate is needed. We will be providing information on this soon. 

To be honest, I firmly believe there is still a lot of work to be done across the SIU system in order to make sure we are consistently putting our words of support for diversity and inclusion into action. However, my experiences during my short time at SIU have given me hope for the impact we can have here. I have met some wonderful diversity and inclusion leaders throughout our system, and I have been impressed by their commitment and the work they have been doing.

Over the last couple of days, I have read a number of messages from, and have had discussions with, campus leaders related to diversity and inclusion. They have reinforced for me that I am surrounded by leaders who will be great partners in our future efforts. I also know I am fortunate to have a Board of Trustees that was very supportive of my decision to sign on to the CEO pledge and to make these commitments. When the people you work for support your efforts, so much more becomes possible. I am truly appreciative and do not take their strong support of our efforts for granted. 

Finally, let me end by saying that all of this is a group effort, and we can all play a part. At times like this, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from songwriter Jana Stanfield: “I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.” So, today, I would like to ask each of you to join me in doing all of the good we can do. Thank you. 

Dan Mahony
President, SIU System