Vice President for Intercultural Affairs Jennifer Abe facilitates collaboration among University administrators, faculty and staff to "develop and implement programs, policies and procedures that create and sustain an institutional culture and climate." Abe aims to curate this climate with a focus on "diversity, inclusion, equity and equity-mindedness across the campus community.”
Fall 2020 marked the inception of LMU’s Anti-Racism Project. Headed by Abe and continuing under her guidance until December 2021, the project is rooted in Jesuit tradition. This is fulfilled through LMU’s curriculum and campus life.
According to Abe, “liberation theology is really emphasizing that you cannot have a relationship with God without a relationship with your fellow human beings.” Because of this interconnectedness, Abe said that “we cannot live into that mission unless we’re anti-racist.”
When asked if there was a specific incident that spurred the creation of the Project, Abe said the University has been responding to racism since before the creation of the project, and it did not “start from scratch last year.”
The efforts of the Project were “not as much as we could have been [doing] this whole time,” said Abe. However, “LMU was one of the earliest universities on the West Coast to start an African American studies department" and have a “chief diversity officer two decades before most institutions.”
In terms of the work accomplished during the 2020 to 2021 academic year, Abe is pleased with the “consistency of the report-out sessions” and the collaborative effort and responsibility taken on by various organizations on campus. According to her, this work was "manifested in the fact that the anti-racism [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] committee made it to the strategic plan,” which means that “every unit at the University is going to have to think about how [this fits] into their goals.”
With the racist verbal assault that occurred on campus on Sept. 11, Abe said the “pain that the whole community feels when you have racism manifested in remarks or actions. The reverberations are felt throughout the community.” Abe cited the questions that the incident evoked within her: “How are we treating each other? How do we create a culture that it becomes unconscionable and unfathomable to talk to another person in that way?”
Abe described the actions taken by her colleagues to address the situation. “I’ve been having meetings and conversations all weekend, and that will continue.” Abe emphasizes the importance of communication across the community, which will enable students to engage with the Anti-Racism Project.
As of now, however, Abe and her colleagues “are trying to expand the website so the community can get more information and have it be very accessible and have FAQs. We’re going to try to expand communication and access to that communication.”
Despite Abe’s transition out of the Project at the end of the year, she feels hopeful for the continuation of the project. “I’m looking at it in the long term, beyond the next strategic plan and into a transformation that looks beyond the systemic policies, processes and structures [because] what we really want to get at is climate.” In order to alter LMU’s climate, Abe says a collaboration between students and staff on campus is needed, which speaks to LMU’s mission that emphasizes “the importance of relationships.”
Abe and her colleagues recognize the importance of the connection between student and administrative relationships. “The student perspective, the student experience, the student lens” is essential and serves as a way that the Anti-Racism Project grounds itself in various aspects of the community. The project was “in very regular communication with the student leaders of #BlackatLMU last year, and I want to continue with the student leaders in dialogue," said Abe.
In the theme of relationship building, Abe describes how “you can never get away from the basics of how you treat every other person of different backgrounds in your life, and that’s the foundation for everything we do as an institution.”