Last night’s forum, Diversity University: In Theory and In Practice, was an intense, disturbing and enlightening experience for me, as I imagine it was for many others. I want to thank everyone who attended, and I especially want to thank the student organizers, the panel participants, and all those students who showed the courage to share their stories about their Wesleyan experiences. The emotional honesty and thoughtfulness I witnessed gives me hope that together we can create a more inclusive, supportive and inspiring campus culture.
Last night’s forum follows on the heels of campus discussions among a variety of student groups, the WSA, and participants in Making Excellence Inclusive (MEI). There are two other general forums planned in the near term: the first, on November 20th from 6-7pm, will be with the WSA Committee on Inclusion and Diversity. The second, The Barriers that Inhibit Productive Dialogue About Race at Wesleyan, will be coordinated by Invisible Men, Asian American Student Collective, Ujamaa, and the WSA Committee for Inclusion and Diversity and moderated by Amy Tang and Lois Brown.
Between now and the end of the Thanksgiving, we will follow up on specific student issues raised last night, and we will develop a list of the most important policies on which we should be working. As I mentioned at the forum, I will send a draft list of the issues at the end of the month. Once I receive feedback on those priorities, I will assign staff to work with students and faculty on making progress in each area. Just after spring break I will give a progress report to the campus community, and then we can schedule another student forum to discuss what has (and has not) been accomplished.
It was difficult last night to realize that we have fallen short, and that I have fallen short, of my aspirations for making Wesleyan an inclusive campus for progressive liberal arts education. But it was good to be reminded of those shared aspirations. It was difficult (terribly difficult) to hear the accounts of disappointment, anger and pain. But it was good to see the solidarity and affection of members of our community as they reached out to comfort one another — with snapping fingers, with applause, with hugs. We will build on those aspirations and on the affectionate bonds that connect us as we work together to make Wesleyan an institution that values diversity in theory and in practice.