University officials submitted this editorial to The News Record after a racist cartoon circulated on campus.
It is hard to imagine a sector of our society that is more devoted to understanding difference than higher education. Race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, religion and nationality are more than words, numbers or goals for us. These are complex realities that are lived, learned, researched, debated, celebrated, tested, leveraged and supported on college campuses every day and in various ways. Difference is essential to who we are, what we do and why we matter.
Nevertheless, every year campuses across the country find themselves dealing with racist acts or toxic utterances that seek to deprive difference of its value and impact. The University of Cincinnati knows this reality well. Such incidents shock the system: how could a member of our community do such a thing? The hurt is real, and it can be compounded if felt by some but not all.
Our immediate response must be to reach out to those targeted or threatened, ensuring their safety and sense of well-being. No one should stand alone in our community, especially at a time like this. Our next step may be the hardest, but it is the one that we are distinctively equipped to take: we must talk more, not less, about what makes us similar and different; more, not less, about our responsibility to recognize and protect free speech, even—and perhaps especially—when it is objectionable; and more, not less, about how we, individually and collectively, plan to transform such occurrences into positive outcomes for our campus community.
Our discussions should leverage our academic training and experience, leading us to examine every sort of rendering—written, spoken, drawn or performed—to determine its motives and effects, its claim on truth. And while all members of our community have the right to express an odious opinion, we also have an equal right, even a duty, to challenge it. Just as there are better and worse ways to conduct research, teach classes and write papers, there are better and worse ways to discuss disagreements. The better way? To stretch minds, not close them; to attack falsehoods, not personhood. The point of civility is not to cultivate thin skins or to lose perspective. The point is to act responsibly and respectfully. The alternative is simply not worthy of the people we aspire to be.
Recently, we launched a national search for UC’s Chief Diversity Officer, a formerly part-time role that was elevated to a full-time position in early 2013. Someone asked if we plan to be forthright with external candidates about the diversity-related challenges facing the University. Our answer to them is our pledge to you: we will be honest with ourselves and with the broader community that we can and will do better. More than simply understanding our differences, we must live, learn and work across them in ways that make our campus community increasingly excellent.
Now is the time to engage more fully with these issues.
• Join us on October 16th for a campus-wide forum on “Breaking the Polite Silence: A Conversation About Race” with Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University and a leading voice on race, difference and identity.
• Learn more about the history and success of our student-centered Racial Awareness Program (RAPP), and then get involved in their newly launched dialogue series entitled “Let’s Talk About It.”
• Attend a lecture or forum involving our faculty experts working in these fields.
• Take advantage of the University’s soon-to-be launched innovative online training program that explores the various dimensions of difference in a self-paced learning environment.
• Participate in any of the numerous diversity, inclusion and safe zone training sessions on campus or contact the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer to help identify a customized workshop for your group or organization.
• Submit an opinion piece to The News Record on what difference means to you.
• Review our campus-wide Diversity Plan and give us your ideas and insights for making it better.
• Initiate meaningful discussions with each other in the dorms, classrooms, playing fields or cafeteria.
The list goes on, but hopefully you get the point that our campus community needs each of us to speak up and reach out now more than ever.
Santa J. Ono - President
Beverly Davenport ‑ Provost
Bleuzette Marshall - Interim Chief Diversity Officer