Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
Oh Happy Day! How wonderful it is to be with you as we commemorate the life, the teaching and the inspirational guidance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We're early this year, and I like that— early in the "King Season." It's good because there is a lot to commemorate but also, lots of action needed. And as usual, early in the day, breakfast is the meal that fuels our activity. This meal is dedicated to that spirit of movement: moving our hearts, minds and souls—but also our muscles, our arms and legs so that the greater movement—the movement for social justice and equality; for diversity and inclusion; and for fairness and faith has the fuel we need to persevere and, one day, to prevail.
moving our hearts, minds and souls—but also our muscles, our arms and legs so that the greater movement—the movement for social justice and equality; for diversity and inclusion; and for fairness and faith has the fuel we need to persevere and, one day, to prevail.
For the past 30 years we have launched our motivational MLK week and our MLK days of service in this way and while many deserve recognition, let's recognize Bobby Gist, our Special Advisor to the President and Director of Equal Opportunity Programs, and also the MLK Commemorative Celebration Planning Committee.
There are many here with us this morning who have, for years, been fully committed to making a greater nation for us to live in. May I ask the President's Advisory Committee members to stand and be recognized? Also members of city, county and state government. Our esteemed speaker, Senator Marlon Kimpson and also Dr. Milton Kimpson and Wilhelmina Kimpson, parents of Senator Kimpson.
I pledge to each of you that our university will continue to place diversity and inclusion as one of our top priorities. We are doing much and there is much more to be done.
I pledge to each of you that our university will continue to place diversity and inclusion as one of our top priorities. We are doing much and there is much more to be done. I'm pleased to share with you that we received an early Christmas present this year. In December we learned that the Education Trust report is recognizing the University of South Carolina as a national leader for improving graduation rates for minority students.
In fact, USC ranks in the top five among flagship universities for closing the graduation gap between minority and white students over the past decade. I'm pleased to share with you that over the past few years we have increased our minority enrollment by 24.4 percent on the Columbia camp from —4,641 students to 5,777—and we are graduating these students at an ever-increasing rate. Other initiatives in progress include: Office of Multicultural Affairs (Shay Malone), TRIO and Opportunity Scholars (Paul Beasley and Althea Counts), Gamecock Guarantee and Student Success Center (Eric Moschella), And two years ago, the creation of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (John Dozier). And recently the SEC awarded Carolina a substantial grant so that we might share our diversity programs with the entire conference. I am proud that we have again received, for the fourth consecutive year, the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award which is presented by the nationally recognized Insight Into Diversity publication.
But we also have much to do. On November 16, we heard from students who expect us to do more to—make them feel even more included, safer and more comfortable. They ask that we improve our environment and our culture, to recruit even more students and faculty of color. All of these are legitimate concerns of the Vision 2020 group and all of them will be addressed in concert with student, staff and faculty leaders acting through our Diversity Committee. Everyone in this room should expect progress and we will be accountable to you.
We are also in the process of establishing the South Carolina Collaborative on Racial Reconciliation to create spaces for healthy dialogue about race and thoughtful actions that lead toward the reconciliation and healing of racial differences in both the university community and communities across South Carolina. This will complement the work of the recently launched Center for Civil Rights History and Research that will house the papers of U.S. Representative James Clyburn and other prominent civil rights activists in our state.
Finally, it's beyond time to address the wages of USC employees who work so hard for us and with us every day and who are at the bottom of the salary ladder. They need to make living wages and I have asked our HR and Finance leaders to develop a plan that addresses these inequities and to start out on a path to economic advancement for these workers who are part of our very own family.
We are pressing forward, keeping our eyes on the prize. Again, thank you for joining with us this morning. Please know that Patricia and I cherish this university and I give you my word that we have every intention of exercising Dr. King's mandate to seize the "fierce urgency of now."