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American University's Plan for Inclusive Excellence

President Sylvia M. Burwell announces American University's Plan for Inclusive Excellence and discusses the opportunities and challenges the university faces with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

American University was founded to respond to the needs of a changing world, with a set of guiding values—among them diversity, equity, and inclusion. In today's climate on campus and across the nation, the need to live up to those values has only become more pressing. AU cannot be excellent without being truly inclusive, and without taking the concrete, specific steps to improve our campus climate.

As a community, we have been challenged to confront incidents of racism, discrimination, inequity, bias, and threats of violence. In 2017, after the university began making promising, but insufficient progress to address these issues, we experienced even more egregious acts of hate and bias. These incidents revealed sharp underlying differences in the campus experiences of people of color, especially African American students, faculty, and staff, compared to their white counterparts.

This plan, resulting from analyses of campus survey data, external consultations, and meetings with more than 1,000 faculty, staff, administrators, students, and alumni, summarizes the opportunities and challenges the university faces with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities' Inclusive Excellence framework serves as the organizing principle for AU's efforts. Informed by a well-established body of empirical research, Inclusive Excellence represents a shift in approach, placing diversity, equity, and inclusion at the core of educational excellence and institutional mission.

American University's priority is to infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion at a strategic, tactical, and operational level. This starts with a critical examination of the systems, policies, curricular frameworks, faculty and staff development, student engagement, resources, and communications.

AU will live up to its values, seek to ensure that everyone in this community feels included, and strive toward excellence in the 21st century. We encourage the entire AU community to read the plan, engage with it, and identify the ways we each will support its objectives and goals.

Media Contact 

AU Communications 
Phone: 202-885-5950 


It truly takes a village to build a more inclusive community. This plan was no exception. Among the many who contributed to the development of this plan, we thank the following:

The President's Council on Diversity and Inclusion co-chairs Caleen Jennings, professor of theater, and Jeff Rutenbeck, dean of the School of Communication, as well as members Kelly Alexander, director of public relations, University Communications and Marketing; Sara Bendoraitis, director of programming, outreach and advocacy, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Office of Campus Life; Tristan Cabello, director of American studies, College of Arts and Sciences; Bridget Cooney, finance project manager, Office of Finance and Treasurer; Deborah DeMille-Wagman, AUx instructor, Office of Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies; Larry Engel, associate professor, School of Communication; Lia Epperson, professor and associate dean for faculty and academic programs, Washington College of Law; Sara Nieves-Grafals, clinical psychologist, member of AU Alumni Board; Alan Kraut, professor of history, College of Arts and Sciences; Lauren Lumpkin, director of diversity and inclusion, AU Student Government; Beth Muha, assistant vice president of human resources; Yamillet Payano, inclusion director, AUSG executive branch and senate undergraduate; Portia Polk, graduate student and School of Public Affairs graduate research assistant; Ammarah Rehman, co-president, Muslim Students Association; Mark Schaefer, university chaplain, Kay Spiritual Life Center; and Thi Nguyen-Southern, associate general counsel, Office of the General Counsel. 

The leadership team that worked with President Sylvia M. Burwell, including: Makeba Clay, consultant; the President's Cabinet, and especially Vice Presidents Fanta Aw and Terry Flannery; Chief of Staff Seth Grossman and Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Chiglinsky; Karen Froslid Jones, assistant provost, Institutional Research and Assessment; and Nana An, assistant vice president of Budget and Finance Resource Center. 

All of the stakeholder groups who provided their wisdom and input on drafts of the plan. Those groups are the President's Council; President's Council on Diversity and Inclusion; directors of Office of Campus Life; Faculty Senate Executive Committee; AU deans; Provost Scott A. Bass; Black Faculty and Staff Association; Staff Council; Alumni Board; Community Conversation; Community Conversation II; student leaders; Faculty Senate; chairs, program directors, and department heads; participants in community conversations led by President Burwell; multicultural alumni (including Black Alumni Alliance, Asian Pacific Islander Affinity, and others); Board of Trustees; and Cabinet.