Diversity, tolerance, and building community: A message from Chancellor Blumenthal

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

To: The Campus Community
From: Chancellor George Blumenthal

This fall, we welcomed one of the largest and most diverse incoming classes in campus history. Diversity poses an invaluable opportunity for each of us to learn about one another, to stretch our horizons, and to appreciate differences across race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, age, ability, citizenship, political preference, and more.

Even with the best of intentions, however, this isn't easy to do. As we interact in residence halls, classrooms, offices, labs, on teams, and in clubs, we encounter—directly and sometimes indirectly—challenges. We are tested by language and actions that range from the unintentionally hurtful to—at times—the most egregious, deliberate hate speech and behavior.

Last week's campuswide police announcement that a man left packages of materials related to the "white power movement" on campus is a reminder that we aren't a "city on a hill," beyond the reach of those who seek to foment tension. Indeed, many of us are aggrieved by ongoing acts of violence against people of color and troubled by the political rhetoric of the presidential campaign. These are trying times.

This campus protects both free speech and academic freedom, and yet we know the degrading effects of hate speech and hateful acts. That's why it behooves each of us to play a role in speaking up, ensuring that voices of tolerance, compassion, and civility prevail.

As a microcosm of society, this campus is making important changes to meet the needs of our community. This fall, we introduced a new trans-friendly housing option. Our Title IX Office has hired two more investigators, prompted by the growing number of complaints of sexual harassment and sexual assault—a result, we believe, of greater awareness. African American students spoke up about their needs, and we responded by hiring an African American retention specialist, and Admissions is hiring a staff member with a primary focus on recruiting African American students.

UC Santa Cruz is also actively working to give members of our community the skills they need to foster positive interactions. I want students, faculty, and staff to feel prepared for the difficult conversations that are sometimes necessary, and I want the conversations to have positive outcomes.

One example: For eight years, Donnae Smith, the coordinator of diversity and inclusion programs for Colleges, Housing, and Educational Services, has trained hundreds of student residential staff at the colleges each fall to prepare them to address the tensions that can emerge when students from diverse backgrounds live together. The "big four" topics of negative encounters are gender identity and expression, race, religion, and sexual identity.

Participants feel empowered by the training, telling Donnae she "gives them language" to deal with upsetting or unkind encounters.

Many campus programs and professionals are dedicated to the Principles of Community and to helping all students, faculty, and staff live up to our shared goals of embracing diversity, being just, open, purposeful, disciplined, caring, and celebrative.

Campus resource centers are focused on these issues, providing support and community to students, faculty, and staff. They include the African American Resource and Cultural Center; American Indian Resource Center; Asian American/Pacific Islander Resource Center; Chicano Latino Resource Center--El Centro; Disability Resource Center; Cantu Queer Center; and the Women's Center.

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