William Peace University is a four-year private comprehensive university founded in 1857 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The institution was founded in 1857 to educate women and named for local merchant and benefactor William Peace. Affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, the university now educates men and women and offers undergraduate degrees in more than 30 majors for traditional students and working adults.
William Peace University’s mission is to prepare students for careers in the organizations of tomorrow. Rooted in the liberal arts tradition, the student develops an appreciation for life-long learning, a focus on meaningful careers, and skills for ethical citizenship.
The university has approximately 140 full-time faculty and staff members and serves roughly 750 undergraduate students annually.
The university has an endowment of $55 million.
Raleigh, North Carolina
William Peace University (WPU) engaged The Diversity Movement (TDM) to help the university process difficult historical findings that were uncovered during a study conducted in the 2020-2021 academic year. WPU sought to acknowledge its past and where it might intersect with White supremacy, slavery, and racism. The university also wished to chart a path forward, to be a place where diversity is celebrated, inclusion is practiced, and respect is commonplace.
TDM worked with Dr. Brian C. Ralph, President of William Peace University, the rest of the school’s leadership team, and its DEI office to craft inclusive and transparent messaging about the school’s history. In March 2022, WPU acknowledged, among other historical findings, that the school’s namesake and benefactor Willam Peace owned enslaved people. In conjunction with the public statement, the statue of William Peace was removed from campus.
After the March announcement, we conducted 11 in-person and virtual listening sessions with WPU students, faculty and staff, board members, and alumni. These listening sessions were to provide a confidential and safe space to process the school’s acknowledgement of its history, and to hear suggestions for how WPU could cultivate a more welcoming environment. We compiled the resulting information into a report that the WPU leadership team is now using to guide their next steps.
There are a lot of qualities that really stood out as we engaged with The Diversity Movement. The first thing I noticed was that they are great listeners. They did a great job of creating safe space for me as a leader to have exploratory questions about things that I may not have fully understood at the time. [...] Secondly, The Diversity Movement brought an incredible amount of organization to the project. Being able to have a strategic approach to this was critical, because it wasn't just about this acknowledgement and our next steps, but it was really about framing how we engage around DEI going forward as a university community.Brian C. Ralph, Ph.D. President, William Peace University
We partnered with the WPU leadership team and its DEI office to craft inclusive and transparent messaging about the school’s history. This included a public statement, FAQs, website content, and social media. We also provided media training and executive communication coaching to Dr. Ralph, so he could discuss WPU’s history in an authentic way and answer difficult questions from stakeholders following the announcement. Our work with the university and Dr. Ralph led to “a very, very strong execution” of the acknowledgement.
After the public acknowledgement, we compiled insights from 11 listening sessions with stakeholders into a comprehensive report. Included in our findings was a set of recommendations that we shared with the senior leadership team and board of directors. The university took several subsequent actions, including:
- The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was relocated to a larger and more visible space on campus. In 2023, a second full-time employee will be added to the DEI office.
- The Senior Leadership Team is now integrating diversity, equity and inclusion goals into performance plans for employees.
- Student leaders are participating in leadership searches, and the university has further diversified its Senior Leadership Team.
- The sports jerseys were redesigned after some student-athletes asked that William Peace’s name be removed.
The university is also using the report and its findings to inform WPU’s next steps, including developing and executing a long-term strategic DEI plan.