We are at a turning point in our society right now, and hopefully in our history. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed legal equality regardless of sexual identity or orientation and rejected the president's attempt to end protections for Dreamers – both in the past week. These are real victories for us to celebrate.
But there is still much more to be accomplished before we as a nation live up to our most basic principles. Our society has oppressed Black/African American people for centuries, and those of us who are white have too often diverted our gaze from that oppression and how it has worked to our benefit. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many more have finally caused us to open our eyes and express our unwillingness to be complicit – to insist that Black lives do undeniably matter.
Black Lives Matter.
These are not just words on a page to me, personally, or to our university community. You have heard me discuss in many forums during my tenure as president the importance of ensuring that each and every person who interacts with our campus is respected and feels seen and heard. I am delighted that our governing Board of Trustees took time at today’s board meeting – on this historically significant day, Juneteenth – to discuss issues of diversity. The board issued this formal statement condemning racial injustice:
“On this Juneteenth of 2020, we act in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and with people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who continue to face unprecedented challenges, injustices, and violence.
“The SOU Board joins President Linda Schott in her clear statement that Southern Oregon University condemns and denounces hate and abhorrent language and behaviors intended to harm any member of our learning community on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, expression, age, national origin (ancestry), immigration status, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or military status. We are firmly committed to peace, justice, civil discourse, social-emotional support and respect for all.
“We must seize these opportunities, and while acknowledging the challenges, we must assure our students and colleagues that we see them, hear them and stand with them against racial oppression and injustice. We cannot be silent. It is not enough to feel bad, or hope someone else will do something. We must be part of the solution. We must act.
“Identifying actions that we can take will be part of our challenge and our opportunity. We recognize that thinking of actions is easier than taking them, but taking action is a moral imperative. As a board, we commit to not only condemning injustice but also taking action and rising to the challenge of being part of a solution."
Our board’s strong statement of support for our students, faculty and staff of color is just the beginning. The board has committed – as I have – to lead SOU through whatever process is necessary to ensure that our campus embraces people from all walks of life and from all nations of the world. We prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion in our strategic plan, and those standards continue to be of primary importance.
To this end, I want to formally announce the appointment of three respected campus leaders – Sabrina Prud’homme, university board secretary; Jonathan Chavez Baez, assistant director for Latino/a/x Programs and Outreach Support; and Kylan Mattias de Vries, associate professor in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, and Sociology and Anthropology – to jointly lead our diversity work. Together, these talented individuals, in conjunction with allies throughout campus, will develop and implement strategies for the institution that focus on the following priorities:
- Lead the university’s efforts to meet state cultural competency requirements by December 2020.
- Identify and employ continuing training opportunities for our campus that provide a foundation for our future work, including intersectional implicit bias training, professional development opportunities for our staff, and culturally responsive teaching practices for our faculty.
- Use the results of SOU’s 2020 campus climate survey to begin a dialogue about creating an Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Plan for our campus. The goals of the plan will be to initiate systemic changes in our policies and instill accountability for the institution.
In addition, Angela Fleischer, director of equity grievance, will become our Title IX coordinator and focus her expertise in that arena.
I have asked this Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Team to direct these efforts for the immediate future, and possibly as long as the coming year. We have agreed that it is most vital to concentrate on the work that must be done on our campus rather than conduct a national search for an equity, diversity and inclusion executive at this time. I assure the campus, however, that SOU will revisit the hiring process for this position during a less stressful and less difficult time, when SOU can put its best foot forward to attract stellar candidates to the university.
This is a very challenging time for all of us, so I want to remind you to take care of yourselves and access the resources that may be helpful for you. Assistance is available to all enrolled students from our Dean of Students’ office or at (541) 552-6223. And SOU students can always visit or call our Student Health and Wellness Center at (541) 552-6136 to schedule time with our caring and experienced counselors.
Enrolled students also can access the following resources, depending on their needs:
- The Multicultural Resource Center hosts support groups for the campus broadly and has held caucus events only for our Black and African American students, exclusively. Marvin Woodard, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Request a Black therapist via tinyurl.com/soufundrequest
- Request financial support and other resources at tinyurl.com/soucaresact
- File reports requesting extensions and flexibility in classes at tinyurl.com/soucaresform
Employees can access mental health professionals at Cascade Centers through our Employee Assistance Program. Upon intake, Cascade will assist you in selecting a counselor who matches your specific requests, which can include race, ethnicity, religion, gender or language, as well as special areas of clinical need.
I have full faith in the ability of our campus to come together and create the constructive change we seek. SOU is a special place, and I am committed to ensuring that all in our community feel safe here. I welcome your good ideas and good hearts to our work. You may email me directly or contact the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Team via email at EDI@sou.edu.
President, Southern Oregon University