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2019-20 Academic Year-End Letter
June 04, 2020

To: The Caltech Community
From: Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and Professor of Physics
Date: June 4, 2020
Re: 2019-20 Academic Year-End Letter

In April 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. responded from a Birmingham jail cell to admonitions from eight white clergymen for leading a nonviolent protest against segregation:

"I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

The ideals that Dr. King expressed a half century ago remain true today. Tragically, we are still far from realizing them. The burdens of violence and racism weigh heavily on the shoulders of the Black community here and across the nation. The stories we witness in the media, and the stories that Black members of our community recently shared, are in large measure the same as stories from decades ago. We recognize that these burdens accumulate and impart a sustained emotional exhaustion in the Black community, repeating from generation to generation. We must counter racism with vigilance and diligence until there is just, fair, and equitable treatment throughout our community and American society.

"Habit is a powerful means of advancement, and the habit of eternal vigilance and diligence, rarely fails to bring a substantial reward."Lewis Howard Latimer (1848-1928), inventor and engineer whose parents escaped slavery and who worked with Alexander Graham Bell to draft the patent for the telephone

Since I arrived at Caltech six years ago, I have emphasized diversity as a core concern for the Institute. Caltech must become the destination of choice for extraordinary individuals from every background and every perspective. It is only when all scholars share fully in the privileges of the academy that we will realize fully the potential of science and engineering to transform society for the better. Each and every person brings their own story that must be honored and valued as a contributing member of the Caltech community.

We have made progress. The undergraduate body approaches gender parity. It is the most diverse ever with the population of historically under-represented minority students in last year's class exceeding 30 percent. The Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship program seeks to increase the number of historically underrepresented minority faculty in STEM fields. Outreach to our local schools has become a major feature of the CTLO. Faculty hiring has become more diverse as a focus on casting the net widely begins to yield exceptional, but previously unidentified, female and minority scholars.

Caltech now has a Chief Diversity Officer, vice provost Cindy Weinstein, a reconfigured Center for Inclusion and Diversity under the leadership of Hanna Song, and a revitalized President's Diversity Council animated by Professor Bil Clemons. The Institute has reformed security on campus under Chief of Security Victor Clay, with a renewed emphasis on training. We have increased support in the Equity and Title IX office led by Hima Vatti. Women and people of color are occupying more administrative leadership roles across the Institute.

We have far to go. Diversity requires continued attention year after year, but it is not enough to identify the people we seek to recruit to Caltech. We must be a place of inclusion where individuals want to come and spend their careers. We must be a place of equity where all have access to the same opportunities once they are here. Caltech will launch a climate study to assess and better understand the experiences of our community members who are underrepresented on this campus. We will make unconscious bias training a feature across campus. We will build on best practices in graduate recruiting across the options to increase our success. We will scrutinize our systems and our structures. Vigilance and diligence are required and incumbent upon us all.

I write these words sheltered at home, in the midst of a pandemic, under curfew. The Caltech community is connected virtually, but we are not a virtual community. Injustice anywhere that affects the members of our community needs to viscerally affect us all.

Next week is Commencement. Each graduate will be named as the ceremony proceeds on screen. This naming is powerful. It recognizes the individual and calls out their story. Together these stories and accomplishments illuminate the full Caltech community's contributions to knowledge and to the betterment of society. It is an opportunity to imagine a new beginning and to devote ourselves to its realization.