Ithaca College Quarterly 2005/1  

 

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President's Corner

Erasing the Hate

Bias-related incidents have no place in our community -- and we all share responsibility for making them a distant memory.

This past spring was one of the most difficult for me in my 16 years as a college president. Several incidents of bigotry and prejudice took place that shook the campus to the core and left me deeply troubled. They included the verbal harassment of two students by individuals using racial and ethnic epithets, explicit racist graffiti written in and around the Towers Concourse, and the theft of the gay pride flag from the "free speech" flagpole.

Such actions, obviously born of ignorance and intolerance, have no place in a community that values diversity. While only a few members of our community were directly involved in these hateful actions, we are all responsible, individually and collectively, for creating a campus that accepts and embraces our differences. Even had these specific incidents not taken place, it is clear that we need to work harder to create a warmer campus environment where all members of the campus community feel able to pursue their education and their work in a nurturing and safe environment, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation.

In April we released a summary of a Campus Climate Survey conducted in 2004 to determine students' experiences at Ithaca College as well as their attitudes and beliefs about diversity and multiculturalism. The summary is available on the website of the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at www.ithaca.edu/provost/serv-doc.htm, but I would like to point out a couple of significant findings.

Ninety-two percent of the respondents expressed overall satisfaction with Ithaca College as well as the belief that IC provides an environment for the open expression of ideas. Statistically significant differences were evident, however, in comfort levels for different racial/ethnic groups. The survey found, for example, that while 41 percent of white students felt that diversity actually is a priority of the College, only 24 percent of African American, 37 percent of Hispanic/Latino, and 26 percent of Asian American students felt that way.

The findings demonstrate that there are shortcomings. Despite my personal disappointment, I am looking at them as opportunities -- to create more effective curricula and social programs. Our challenge is to educate all our students to become global citizens who understand and appreciate the benefits of diversity in our world community.

Last year I created the Presidential Task Force on Diversity to assess progress toward the College's priority of "creating a campus environment that accepts, reflects, and celebrates diversity" (Institutional Plan, spring 2001). Because of the serious incidents that took place this spring I extended the life of the task force and expanded its charge. The revised mandate included reviewing the campus climate survey and seeing whether the results could further inform the task force's work, and revisiting the idea of bias-related incident alerts, which were put on hold in response to questions raised about their effectiveness in informing and educating the campus community.

Twice last spring I spoke to the entire campus community. On March 15 I asked all students, faculty, and staff to attend a formal address concerning bias-related incidents, community standards and values, and Ithaca College's commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. I reflected on the significant strides the College has taken toward building a campus environment that accepts, embraces, and celebrates its diversity. I also addressed the steps being taken to continue that work. The text of my remarks is available online at www.ithaca.edu/president/diversity.php.

At the invitation of student planners, I also spoke at an "Erase the Hate" rally held on April 14. I was gratified by both the large turnout and the positive energy at this event. Many participants -- myself included -- expressed anger and frustration. Yet we recommitted ourselves to making sure that the acts that prompted the gathering will bring us closer together rather than tear us apart.

While such issues reflect those seen on campuses across America and throughout society, that fact in no way diminishes our responsibility to confront them and deal with them on our own turf, on our own terms. We embrace a diversity of people and ideas, and there is no room for racism, bigotry, and hatred at Ithaca College.

Peggy R. Willliams

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