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Let Joseph Vaughn Day shine a light on our values

Joseph Vaughn enrolled in 1965 and graduated cum laude in 1968. He is shown here at the steps of the Duke Library on campus.

This morning, President Elizabeth Davis sent the following message to the campus community to celebrate Joseph Vaughn Day.

Dear Campus Community,

At last week’s presidential inauguration, poet Amanda Gorman reminded us that “there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

If Ms. Gorman had known Joseph Vaughn ’68, her words might have been inspired by his journey, for Joe Vaughn, Furman’s first Black undergraduate student, was a brave light. As a young man from Greenville, he saw an opportunity to be a Furman student as the chance to light a path for other people of color. He shone so brightly that we see and celebrate him still today, on Joseph Vaughn Day, more than 50 years after he graduated Furman, and almost 30 years after he passed away at the young age of 45.

We see Joe Vaughn in our new vision, mission, and values, and our updated, more inclusive history, which we told you about on Monday. Joe Vaughn’s light is also reflected in our new Strategic Diversity Plan, which we are officially announcing today.

Underlying our Strategic Diversity Plan are the assertions that:

  • We must be truly inclusive in order to be truly excellent;
  • We will promote meaningful communication, strong support, and shared experiences among people of different identities and life experiences;
  • We will act to remove obstacles to attaining diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in the recruitment, retention, and advancement of students, faculty, and staff from underrepresented groups; and
  • We will foster in our students a sense of social justice and encourage them to exercise their civic responsibility in creating a fair and equitable order.

I invite you to take some time today to visit our new Chief Diversity Officer website, which we launched this morning. On this site you can find the Strategic Diversity Plan, a report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Black Life at Furman, and other information. We will continue to update and expand this and our other diversity, equity, and inclusion websites to include adding reports on our progress.

I extend my sincere gratitude to those in our community whose good work in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion has brought us to today, when we are articulating Furman’s purposeful intention to be more welcoming to and supportive of people from underrepresented communities.

Thank you, especially, to Chief Diversity Officer Michael Jennings for leading the creation of this plan and to all who helped to inform it, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and the Ad Hoc Committee.

While these administrative actions are necessary to the enrichment and progress of our great university, they must also be personal convictions.

Early in my presidency, I sat with students of color and listened to their fears and their anxieties, worries I have never had and will never have because of the color of my skin. Hearing how real the problems of the world are for our students was a transformative moment for me. Discrimination and racism are problems people of color encounter every day. They are not faceless fears; they are as palpable and personal as a sister or a brother, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter, or a friend.

Today, on Joseph Vaughn Day, I encourage each of us to seek out conversations with each other. Have a discussion, with an open heart and an empathetic spirit. Give yourself the opportunity to be transformed.

We had intended to install Joe Vaughn’s statue this week and unveil it in a special campus ceremony today on a plaza named in his honor. Since we cannot gather because of COVID precautions, we will find a date and time as soon as possible when we can come together to celebrate and dedicate this monument to his historic contributions.

Meanwhile, for today, and every day, I encourage us all to be a little more like Joseph Vaughn: brave enough to see a light, and brave enough to be a light.

Warmly,

Elizabeth Davis
President

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