Opening Remarks at Institute’s Ninth Annual Diversity Symposium

Georgia Tech Diversity Symposium
September 6, 2017
G.P. “Bud” Peterson


On Sept. 6, Georgia Tech President G. P. “Bud” Peterson gave opening remarks at the Institute’s Ninth Annual Diversity Symposium.

Good morning, it’s a great pleasure to welcome you to the ninth annual Diversity Symposium.

First, I’d like to thank you all for being here and for being a part of these important discussions as we continue to create a Georgia Tech community that is focused on inclusiveness as a top institutional priority. What a great turnout!

Thank you also to Dr. Archie Ervin and his staff in the Office of Institute Diversity for their dedication as we work to build a diverse and inclusive community of students, faculty, and staff — with a wide variety of backgrounds, perspectives, interests, and talents.

And finally, a special welcome to Mr. John Quiñones, creator of “What Would You Do?” Welcome!

We have much to be proud of at Georgia Tech in the area of diversity and inclusion, but we also know that we still have much work to do. Let me start with some points of pride and success:

When I was preparing for my annual Institute Address recently, we came across some numbers that were encouraging and give an idea of how far we’ve come:

The number of first-time Black/African-American applicants has nearly doubled in the past 10 years to more than 2,500. And, because of the Undergraduate Admissions staff’s work to enhance diversity, Georgia Tech graduated a record number of women, Black/African-American, Hispanic, and Asian students in AY 2017.

This year, we have a 7 percent increase over last year of Black/African-American enrolling freshmen, and for the first time in recent history, more than 7 percent of the freshman class is Black/African-American.

This year represents the 65th Anniversary of Women at Tech. As the 2017-18 academic year begins, we celebrate 65 years of the admission of women as full-time students at Georgia Tech. Five years ago, in 2012, 35 percent of our incoming freshmen were women. This fall, we welcomed a class that has 43 percent women, a new record, and we graduate the largest number of women engineers in the country.

Many of our graduates have been trailblazers in their chosen fields. One such individual is Dr. Helen H. Naugle, one of only two women on the faculty at Tech in 1962 and a pioneer in the establishment of university writing centers. Earlier this month we dedicated the Naugle Communication Lab in honor of her innovative work in the establishment of university writing centers.

I also want to update you on the progress of two recent initiatives we have undertaken:

First, are the Gender Equity Initiatives — In my Institute Address last week, I shared some of the progress we have made. As you may recall, we held a number of “Listening Sessions,” and out of those came 11 new initiatives focused on Gender Equity. As a result of these, we have conducted more than 20 Implicit Bias Workshops for nearly 300 faculty members. We will offer three additional such workshops during fall 2017. To enhance professional and leadership development, we have also launched Leading Women@Tech, the Inclusive Leaders Academy, and the provost’s Emerging Leaders Program. Those interested can learn more on our Institute Diversity website.

Second, is an update on the Black Student Experience Task Force — In 2016 we established the initial Black Student Task Force of students, faculty, and staff. Student members gathered feedback from the student body, conducting more than 130 interviews. Last year we adopted the 11 recommendations to be implemented over a three-year period and formed an implementation committee of student, faculty, and staff members. The categories were programing, training, physical spaces, and planning and assessment.

In the coming year, we will continue the implementation of these 11 recommendations, and are looking more expansively at the connected areas of all recommendations, such as FASET and the Office of Minority Educational Development’s (OMED) Challenge. As a result of these recommendations, we have:

Committed to expand OMED’s Challenge program enrollment from 75 to 175 participants per summer by 2019.

Created and implemented a five-week intensive academic preparatory summer program for incoming freshmen.

Launched an EthicsPoint reporting system for the Institute that will be in place this fall.

And established a Student Advisory Committee on Black Student Experiences and Campus Environment, co-led by Institute Diversity and Student Life. The committee will continue to monitor and offer feedback on community and climate issues and provide recommendations about Institute policies that impact students.  

These are just a few of the accomplishments over the course of the past year.

While there will always be those who will try to use the university environment as a platform for their own agendas, we have seen how our academic community and society can stand united in opposition to hatred and bigotry and its distorted view of what freedom means in our United States.

As we began a new academic year, our minds were, and still are, on the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month. On the first day of classes, on my website we posted my welcome letter to students and faculty as they returned to campus, linking to it from the Daily Digest.

In that message, I reinforced our message to students and the entire Georgia Tech community: “that we remain steadfast in our commitment to fostering a safe and inclusive environment that is welcoming to all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, creed, nationality, religious beliefs, or perspectives.”

We are a global university, attracting some of the world’s brightest scholars, researchers, and teachers. Students come from all 50 states and 117 countries. They bring with them a broad range of cultural, ethnic, and diverse backgrounds that makes us all better and strengthens and greatly enriches our campus community. This diversity helps each of us grow intellectually and socially as we share different traditions, beliefs, knowledge, and perspectives with one another.

In this regard, I urge you to join me and others who are calling on Congress to do whatever is necessary to provide a legislative solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program so that the hundreds of thousands of students currently here in the United States may remain without fear of deportation and continue to contribute to our society.

Our country desperately needs these hardworking, talented people, and many of these Dreamers represent what is best about America. As productive members and potential leaders of our society, they are a vital part of our future. When we foster a welcoming, inclusive, and diverse environment, whether it is as individuals, as an institution of higher learning, or as a nation, everyone benefits, everyone.

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in the unveiling of the new Martin Luther King Jr. statue on Georgia’s State Capitol grounds on the 54th anniversary of Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.

As I listened to the speeches by Gov. Nathan Deal, Speaker of the House David Ralston, Mayor Kasim Reed, Georgia Rep. Calvin Smyre, and members of the King family, I was deeply touched. 

The MLK statue stands gazing toward MLK Drive — it is visible for two blocks down the street named for him. Dr. King’s statue is looking in the direction of his boyhood home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his father served as pastor, and toward his own burial site.

It made me enormously proud to be here in Atlanta at Georgia Tech. While others around the country were wrestling with what to do with Confederate memorials and we are all coming to terms with our history in our hearts and minds, the State of Georgia and Atlanta were erecting a statue to honor one of the great leaders of our time.

Atlanta has been known as a “City Too Busy to Hate.” Events such as the MLK Statue unveiling suggest that we’re on a positive trajectory here, but they also cause me to reflect on our culture and help me realize that we still have a long way to go before we become the society envisioned by Dr. King.

We sincerely hope today’s lectures, panels, workshops, and discussions will be beneficial, enjoyable, and eye-opening, as we continue together to strive for inclusive excellence and the type of community of which we can all be proud.

Welcome and again, thank you for being here with us today.