In this episode of URMIA Matters, host Julie Groves, Director of Risk Services at Wake Forest University, and guest Rachel Pluviose, Senior Director of Risk Management and insurance at Johns Hopkins University, talk to Derrick Johnson, the President and CEO of the NAACP, about his upcoming session in Baltimore at URMIA’s Annual Conference. Rachel and Derrick also discuss the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at colleges and universities, and how the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action affects institutions of higher education. Derrick shares his insights on the challenges and opportunities for advancing racial justice and social change in the academic sector. Tune in to hear his advice for risk managers who want to make a difference in moving DEI efforts forward on their campus.
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Rachel Pluviose, Senior Director of Risk Management & Insurance- Johns Hopkins University
Derrick Johnson, President & CEO- NAACP
Julie Groves, Director of Risk Services- Wake Forest University
Jenny Whittington: Hey there. Thanks for tuning in to URMIA Matters, a podcast about higher education, risk management, and insurance. Let's get to it.
Julie Groves: Hi everyone. I'm Julie Groves, Director of Risk Services at Wake Forest University. And for just a few more days, I'm the current URMIA president. I'll be your host for this episode of URMIA Matters. Today, we're going to be talking a little bit more about some of the discussions we'll have at our 2023 annual conference in Baltimore. Joining me are Rachel Pluviose, the Senior Director of Risk Management and Insurance at Johns Hopkins University, and Derrick Johnson, President, and CEO of the NAACP. Welcome to you both. Thanks so much for being on the podcast today, Rachel. It's good to see you. You were just on the podcast to talk about all the exciting things in store for us in Baltimore. I'll just let everyone know that if they want to listen to that conversation, they should check out the August 9th episode of URMIA Matters. So, Derrick, why don't you just tell everybody a little bit about yourself?
Derrick Johnson: Great. Thank you for having me. Derrick Johnson, I'm president and CEO of the NAACP, the nation's largest and oldest civil rights organization, over 114 years in existence, and we exist in 47 of the 50 states. If you have any relatives in Montana, Idaho, or South Dakota, please ask them to join the NAACP so we can hit all 50 states. But I look forward to the conversation.
Julie Groves: Well, it's a great honor to have you on the podcast today. So thank you so much for being here. So, Rachel, you, as one of the conference chairs, were responsible for reaching out to Derrick’s office and bringing him to the stage for us. And so, we really, really appreciate your efforts on that. So, could you just go ahead and pose some questions on behalf of the membership so we can start thinking through what the discussion is going to look like when we get to Baltimore?
Rachel Pluviose: Absolutely. So, thanks again for joining us today. Top of mind for most folks has been that SCOTUS decision that recently came down. So, I guess I'd like to start as having a conversation around that decision. And what are your thoughts on how that will affect the upward mobility for people of color, especially in higher education?
Derrick Johnson: Well, I think it's an unfortunate decision when you see that this country is becoming the most diverse we have ever been in the history of this nation. We should be preparing our young people for a future of leadership, whether they are leaders in corporate America, government, or in associations like this, it is incumbent upon all of us to look beyond the fights of the past, other rising communities, limiting access to opportunities. And really grow towards an approach that's inclusive and that can honor the skills, the talents of all young people. We're a nation that we proclaim to be the leading democracy of the globe, but we cannot lead by words. We must lead by example. And in today's world, diversity is the reality. And the example that we set should be one that is inclusive and diverse.
Rachel Pluviose: So, as we think through that a little bit more, so there was a SCOTUS decision, and then we know there's also state legislatures across the country that have taken steps to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Within higher education associations, we try to pay close attention to the potential implications for our operations. So how do colleges and universities in that space support efforts of diversity and inclusion with the recent passage of these legislations?
Derrick Johnson: Well, I think there's an obligation to look beyond race with a commitment of diversity. What are some of the key milestones universities need to hit? How do you get there if you're not inclusive? Or what are the communities that can add value to the educational experience? Are there other factors that should be considered? It makes it more difficult, but to get to the place we need to get, we need to do it harder to ensure opportunities. You know, can you imagine, I can't imagine a world without the contribution of women. I cannot imagine a world without the contribution of tall people or a world without the contribution of short people, but we should not be forced to try to imagine a world that's only one race. Oh, by the way, race is a social construct.
And many individuals who are listening now would not have even been considered white in 1920. Because if you're not, you weren't a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, that construct of race did not include you in terms of whiteness. And so it's an evolving reality that we must do away with if we are to be the society that we desire to be. And that society should be one that's safe, where we are preparing our young people for a future, a society where we can protect our elders, a society that we protect those who are disadvantaged, however we determine one's disadvantage. That's the quality of life that we should all be working towards, and we cannot do that if we fall prey to past social constructs to eliminate access as opposed to a new construct to open up opportunities for the contributions that we all can bring to bear.
Rachel Pluviose: Amen to that. So, with that being said, colleges generally have been known to be spaces that have pushed forward those different agendas of thinking through differently and trying to break down the prior constructs. So, in our current environment, how do you view the future of higher education's ability to increase awareness around DEI issues?
Derrick Johnson: I'm concerned. I'm concerned that the current political landscape has encroached on our college campuses to take away from free thought, free expression, to explore ideals that's broader than the norm. I'm concerned what emerging technology like AI replacing our ability to be critical thinkers and ways in which it would dumb down our young innovators. I'm concerned with the myopic view of other rising communities and not respecting one's points of reference, view life's experience as it relates to ethnic, gender orientation, religious.
So, I'm concerned. And it's really important for institutions of higher learnings to play a leading role in this so that we can break through this current environment, this current moment in a way in which they are the thought leaders collectively to reset the political norm in a way in which it is inclusive, it can allow for the creation and development of more critical thinkers and lead the way by example, as opposed to following individuals or entities that's not in the best interest of our country, our democracy or individuals.
Rachel Pluviose: As you were speaking, I was thinking through also the impact that social media is even having on our students now and generally how we're seeing that play out on college campuses. And so, as we think through that, when it comes to support, like, how do we then support our faculty, staff, and students in trying to help get that alignment within our campuses on our values moving forward towards DEI, like, how do we push through that when it comes to DEI activities or recruitment and retention?
Derrick Johnson: Social media platforms are super-spreaders of information. They can be super-spreaders of good things that can happen. They can be super-spreaders of the most vile, negative experiences that people are confronted with. Without the necessary guardrails, we don't know what the outcome of the whole social media proliferation with our young people because it's here. We can't take it back. Hegel dialectic is, you know, thesis, after thesis, and thesis. We are in a thesis moment. What is that going to mean? How do we take the old, accept the reality of the new, and create what's going to emerge out of that?
That is the role of institutional higher learnings because we're not going to reverse technology, nor should we, but we should be able to think through how do we rein it in a way in which it can highlight the most positive experiences that we have and not be a super-spreader of some of the most demeaning, vile information out there that can cause harm? You know, in ACP, we have early on began to take a look at how social media spreading information that's causing harm.
On some platforms they had, they are so powerful with micro targeting individuals where racial hate groups, white supremacist groups have used them to promote negative information, identify a target audience, radicalize those individuals, and those individuals have actually moved out and caused harm committing problems in Pittsburgh with the shooting of the synagogue and in Louisville, Kentucky, when the shooter attempted to go to a black church, and when he couldn't get in because the door was locked, went to a Kroger and killed people. In El Paso, Texas to the Latino community, we see the outcome of the super spreader of social media. Now, the opportunity is for our institution of higher learnings to figure out how do we put reins on this so that we can have a society where people can be safe, but also a society where we can really appreciate the technology.
Rachel Pluviose: So, it’s a tall order indeed. So, on the flip side, we talked earlier about the need for the right thing and incentives to doing the right thing and then when it comes to the legal and financial consequences of potentially not doing the right thing. So, what are your thoughts around legal and financial ramifications on how we get our institutions to promote DEI?
Derrick Johnson: It's a business imperative. At some point, we're going to run out of students. And if you run out of your customer base, you can no longer exist. And so, we must look at both pipelines, but we also need to take a serious look at how do we bring people and put them in the seats of our institutions in a way in that is mission-aligned and comport with the restrictive nature in which the Supreme Court just handed down that decision. That's no short order.
But I think we could do it and we need to do it. I do have some states where, when you look at the age population of 18 and younger, it's majority young people of color, whether Latino or whatever, African American, that's the customer base. That's the future individuals who populate the seat. And if we try to over-index in one area because of historical racial biases, we're going to have more empty seats than the institutions can sustain. And let's be clear- for publicly financed institutions, you have a line item in the budget. That line item has been shrinking over the last 20-30 years from state budgets and from Congress. For private institutions, many of you are driven by tuition and some of you have endowments. Congratulations.
But for the strictly tuition-driven schools, you got to fill the seats or you're going to start closing buildings or faculty have to be forced to retire because you don't have the revenue stream. It's a business imperative. And so, we have to look at the funding streams who are populating the seats, how do we prepare young people for a future that we want this nation to be the leader of not only participating in, in a way in which the court decision, which I think is temporary, temporary in terms of the Supreme Court decision could be 20 years, but still temporary, that we are ready to continue to be a leading nation. That was a lot of probably confusing, but I am concerned that if we don't get this right in the next five years, we're going to set this nation back and create more harm unnecessarily to communities.
Rachel Pluviose: As we were thinking of just to kind of piggyback off of that, I was thinking through how at Hopkins, one of the things that we're trying to do is establish a police force on campus. And getting more students of color and understanding the history between police, students of color, policing, and all of that. As we stand up our police force, so it's kind of like a selfish question since I am at Hopkins, what do you think we should be thinking about as campus administrators? What should we take into consideration and think through as we stand up this police force? Especially given that we're in Baltimore.
Derrick Johnson: Right, so I'll start from square one. Why do you need a police force? And are the services that the police officers are being, are going to be called to do public safety in nature, public health in nature? Is there a need to kind of think through how to keep people safe, the environment healthy, by having other professionals play that role? We fall back to a narrative that it is good cops, bad cops, or good cops, bad people. When what we should be looking at the words protect and serve a lot more broader than individuals with a badge and a gun. And so, as campus administrators, you have, you know, many societies. And can we get an institution, even if it's in the center of the city of Baltimore, our headquarters is, where we view public safety differently so that municipalities and counties and states and this nation can begin to view public safety differently?
After COVID, many of us began to notice what appeared to be a sharp increase in homelessness. I seem to believe that increase is directly related to mental health illness. I'm old enough, but was young at the time, 1982, grew up in Detroit, and I remember when the administration cut the budget for mental health hospitals, and then all of these people off it out in the street, and I grew up in an area close to Tiger Stadium where there was a homeless shelter and a feeding kitchen.
And it felt like overnight that the Michigan Avenue was flooded with homeless people. I was like, where did these people come from? Well, those were individuals who were released from the mental hospitals because there was no support to keep those hospitals open. We are in a crisis moment. And locking people up will not solve the issue. John Hopkins is one of the world's leading, one of the world's leading institutions in terms of health care. Mental health crisis in this country can be addressed, but you have to have an institution to look at it differently. Where else could that happen in John Hopkins, as opposed to erecting a police force? Why don't we erect a force of mental health professionals to address the crisis right around and on the campus?
Rachel Pluviose: Okay. And we definitely do have some initiatives around that as well, having a response force that is not just police, but caring to the mental health needs and being like mental health responders, for lack of a better term. So, they definitely did stand that up. I think at Hopkins, it's a question of-
Derrick Johnson: And Rachel,
Rachel Pluviose: Yes.
Derrick Johnson: As underwriters. I can only imagine your claims will go down because you're asking police officers to respond to individuals who are going through trauma, mental health trauma. Those police officers oftentimes are not trained to respond to that. And as a result, your claims go up. The claims actually could come down. If you have individuals who are in a moment of a crisis because of a mental health trauma, you don't call a fireman. If you have communities that's just overweighed with trauma, you don't call paramedics. The real question is, as underwriters, are we underwriting activities that's causing more liability, or are we informing based on data what should be in place so you can bring down the claims? Different way to look at it.
Rachel Pluviose: Absolutely. That's a good point. And definitely a takeaway. Thank you for that. I will definitely take that back.
Julie Groves: Well, this has been a very insightful discussion. Thank you, Rachel, for your questions. They're very, very thoughtful. And, you know, this is just a little indication of, you know, some of the conversations we'll be having together in a few days in Baltimore. So, did either of you have anything else you wanted to add, anything else you want listeners to know?
Derrick Johnson: This should be fun.
Rachel Pluviose: Absolutely.
Julie Groves: We're looking forward to it.
Rachel Pluviose: So looking forward to it.
Julie Groves: Again, it's such, it's an honor to have you at our conference. Derrick, we will so look forward to that. So, we appreciate you taking the time to come and talk to us. So, I want to just really thank you both again for being here today. And I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of folks in Baltimore in just a few short days. Rachel, it's hard to believe it's almost here. So, everyone get ready. We're going to have a great time in Baltimore. And this wraps another edition of URMIA Matters.