A Worthwhile Discussion

12 Nov

I appreciate the dialogue on diversity and inclusiveness that has been taking place on the blog.  This was the type of discussion I was hoping to prompt with my post.  I want to comment on several of the ideas that have been generated in the process.

My earlier post stemmed from concerns that were raised about a confrontation that occurred off campus between a former student who is African American and a group of white men who were not students (inquiries into their status have shown that at least those who were identified to authorities were not students).   The post addressed issues related to the intersection of the university and the Athens community, and the need to be self-reflective about this relationship and its contributions to our diversity efforts.  Some of the comments addressed this theme directly.  For example, Ed feels that the “university, through its actions and accommodations will not directly influence off-campus persons in their actions” while Brian has a different view explaining how “we’re working with the local community to reach beyond campus and positively impact the region.”

Two points of clarification.  The original blog entry did not blame those in town who are not associated with the university nor did it seek to avoid responsibility for racial issues on campus.  The university’s role and responsibilities concerning diversity and civility issues on all of our campuses are important.  I give credit to the efforts of my colleagues in the Office of Diversity, Access, and Equity who have worked to infuse diversity throughout institutional programs, policies, and practices.  Their work along with the work of student groups, faculty, and staff has provided all of us tools that we can use as individuals to help create a supportive, affirming, and positive environment.

Face-to-face conversations that Vice Provost Brian Bridges, Vice President Kent Smith, Dean of Students Ryan Lombardi, and I have had with faculty and students about this issue have been productive.  We have discussed the ways in which current and future educational programs, training opportunities, student surveys, and collaborations with our communities will allow us to grow ever closer to being places that unreservedly value difference and civility.

I used the “golden rule” in my post because it is provides one of the clearest, most familiar ways to assess our own actions.  As Rod points out in his comment it also should also embolden us, as individuals, to speak out “when we see the rule being broken, bent, or twisted.”

Pam Benoit

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One Response to “A Worthwhile Discussion”

  1. K & M November 19, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    After reading both Provost blog posts referencing racisms prevalence in the OU/Athens community, feelings of disappointment still linger. Although Benoit mentions the intersectionality of racism between the OU/Athens community, her perspective remains meager and utopian. She mentions the need to be self-reflexive yet the embodiment of self-reflexivity has yet to occur. As Political Scientist Jack Donnelly states, “human rights are not just abstract values, but a set of particular social practices to realize those values”. It appears as though the university has yet to initiate the social practices that are necessary if our hope is to create an environment where diversity is respected and embraced. Although we appreciate and value the stance taken by the university in reference to their letter reaffirming their commitment to the LGBT community, we would like to see the same affirmative stance towards the OU/Athens community’s racial climate. The Provost states that by using the blog as a forum she was hoping to prompt this kind of discussion, yet we mustn’t forget that this type of discussion is quite limited—an example of this would be the fact that only 15 responses have been posted. Because of racisms pervasiveness throughout the Athens/OU community, such a discussion cannot solely occur through a blog site affiliated exclusively with the university. The fact remains that the relationship between the Athens community and the OU community is symbiotic and therefore hostility occurring in a specific sect of either environment will inherently affect, either inadvertently or intentionally, each and every one of us. We hope that in the near future the university, Athens community, and all those who reside within will learn from our mistakes and work towards recreating a nurturing, positive, diverse environment. For until then, oppression and hostility will continue and the devastating consequences will remain omnipresent.

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