Diversity and Inclusion

January 15, 2015

Clemson University has a time-honored tradition of celebrating the life and legacy Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. As we approach the annual MLK Holiday, it is a good time to reflect on our commitment to inclusion, equal opportunity and ensuring that we have a climate in which everyone can reach his or her full potential.

Clemson enjoyed many significant achievements in 2014, but we also experienced a number of incidents, ranging from an inappropriate themed party to racist and hurtful social media comments, which made some of our students, faculty and staff feel alienated and unwelcome on campus.

Those events, and the many dialogues among students, faculty and staff that followed, led me to announce a series of initiatives to enhance the climate for diversity – a message which bears repeating, as it may have been lost in the pre-holiday rush of activities and the university break.

I have charged Chief Diversity Officer Leon Wiles and Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Almeda Jacks with leading this effort, and work is already under way on a number of new initiatives, including:

  • A President’s Lecture Series on Leadership in Diversity to bring nationally recognized speakers to campus;
  • Monthly Student Luncheon Dialogues to bring minority and majority students together to enhance communication and understanding;
  • A standing Diversity Council, with a broad-based membership of internal and external constituents, to help us brainstorm, prioritize and make recommendations on the many issues, ideas and concerns that are now coming forward;
  • Review of all existing diversity plans, climate studies and task force recommendations that have been issued over the past several years – to see where we have had success and where we have fallen short of our goals, and
  • Increased promotion of diversity-focused events and programs to encourage broader attendance and participation.

These are just a few of the efforts getting under way, and let us recognize that there are areas where we are making progress, thanks to the hard work of many faculty, staff and students.

We have implemented a new need-based grant program for low-income students, many of whom are from diverse backgrounds. Professor Emeritus Curtis White is leading an effort to recruit and develop minority faculty. The Diversity Office has a program to support the recruitment and enrollment of minority doctoral students. More than 500 faculty, staff and administrators have completed civil workplace training programs. And, the Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Grant Fund has funded more than 30 awards for cross-cultural learning experiences.

This gives us a solid foundation to develop an actionable plan.

We know that these actions will not prevent occasional thoughtless or hurtful remarks or acts – but they do demonstrate our commitment to the core values we teach our students.

Many of the issues now under discussion are complex – such as balancing an honest portrayal of our history with our commitment to inclusion and diversity, or balancing our response to vile social media commentary with our commitment to free speech. And there are honest, sincere and divergent views on how to address them.

All ideas, concerns, solutions and recommendations that have been suggested will be given full consideration. And while we must act with a sense of urgency, it is critical that we give the process a chance to work — and that we make thoughtful, well-informed decisions that benefit from the engagement of many voices and perspectives.

We often speak of the Clemson Family, but we need to live it, not just say it. Family means different things to different people – but central to the concept is a sense that we are all connected. In the words of Dr. King, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”

In that spirit, the students, faculty and staff of the MLK Planning Committee have provided a wealth of opportunities for us to reflect, serve, engage, and learn more about the notions of justice, equal opportunity and inclusion, and how we can advance those ideals at Clemson University.

If you have never participated in an MLK event, this is the year to start. Your participation will bring us a step closer to creating the kind of university where each member of the Clemson family can succeed. Find out more at

Thank you for all you do for Clemson.

Jim Clements


Clemson University's 15th president, James P. Clements