Dear members of the campus community:
Once again, our country arose this week to news of a tragic shooting, this time claiming the lives of nine African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. Both local law enforcement officials and the FBI are investigating this event as a hate crime, and it may rise to classification as a terrorist act. As President Obama said in his own remarks, we have seen far too many incidents of gun-related violence and race-related violence in our country—especially over the past few months. We know that despite having made significant progress, our society has failed to fully bridge the racial divides that too often continue to separate us—as individuals and as citizens of what we so desperately need to be the United States of America.
Skidmore College has a duty to play a role in bridging that divide. This work begins with our campus. We continue to make progress, but too many continuing incidents provide constant reminders that we have much to do. We know that there are many members of our own community, including members of the student body, staff, and faculty, who often feel that they are not fully included. At the end of last semester, Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs Rochelle Calhoun wrote to our students about hateful comments that were made on social media following an attempt by students to raise awareness of events then transpiring in Baltimore.
We have moved to become a more diverse community than we were some years ago: more diverse racially, more diverse in terms of national origin, more diverse socioeconomically. And our progress will continue. But now, we need to move from diversity to inclusion—to being a community where everyone feels invited to participate, one in which all members’ voices are heard.
We are taking concrete steps to advance further toward this goal. These steps include our forthcoming naming of a Chief Diversity Officer, and our recent sending of a team of eighteen people—Skidmore students, staff, faculty, and administrators—to the annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE). Through programming and a focus on inclusion throughout the 2015–16 academic year, this team is committed to assisting our Diversity Quad leaders and the Committee on Intercultural and Global Understanding (CIGU) in moving our community forward. Our new pilot Staff Advisory Group will also be charged with taking up this important mission.
Some of the most important changes we can make will be in the way we treat one another. Let us renew our commitment to show everyone respect through our actions, not just our words. This does not mean that we all need to agree on everything. Being the inclusive community we seek to be means providing spaces to deal with disagreement. If we are all thinking the same way about important issues, then some of us are just not thinking. In an educational community especially, diversity must include a diversity of ideas. Indeed, participating in robust and challenging discussions of differing opinions will help our students develop the resilience they need to live in the still-imperfect world they will enter upon graduation.
We mourn with those who have lost loved ones in Charleston. The dead and injured are members of our national community, so we all share in this loss. The presence of hatred and intolerance in the American community remains a national tragedy that we all must overcome together. Let us begin by looking within ourselves and resolving, in the words of Gandhi, to be the change we wish to see in the world.
Once again? Never again!
Thank you for your attention.
Philip A. Glotzbach