Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Summer in Rhode Island, Part 3

One of the emerging priorities for the University of Rhode Island is building a strong, vibrant, and supportive community that views diversity as a strength and where equity is a core value. This is reflected many places, including the Academic Plan, in URI’s “Cornerstones”, and in my inaugural remarks. Two events occurred this summer that reinforced my conviction that building a community where all our members are valued and supported is critical to the future of the University.

The first was a gathering of GLBT students, along with members of the faculty, staff, administration, and the local community at my house on a Friday evening in August. The meeting was partly in response to a highly regrettable incident in which someone driving through our campus yelled “faggots” at a group of our students who were doing nothing more than walking and holding hands. Our students made it clear that such experiences were, all too frequently, a part of their lives at URI and that the response of the university to these incidents was, for whatever reason, all too frequently inadequate. This is simply unacceptable. That any of our students should have to live with harassment and fear should be intolerable to all of us. No one would want to endure what some of our GLBT students have endured, and no one should have to, at least while at URI. It’s that simple, I think.
Consequently, I have asked several members of the senior leadership team, as well as others, to work with our students to develop and implement strategies to improve the experience of our GLBT students at URI. A key element will be to find a way to provide a new home for our GLBT Center that substantially improves its functionality while providing a safe and welcoming environment for students who wish to go there.

It is important to note that these actions are a central component of URI’s renewed emphasis on promoting community, equity, and diversity. The Equity Council will play a central role in this effort. A very productive retreat at the end of August among members of the Equity Council and the administration generated a number of goals and specific actions for the coming year in the following areas: (1) curriculum and teaching; (2) faculty and staff diversity and development; (3) student diversity and development; (4) administration of diversity efforts; and (5) communications concerning diversity, equity, and community.

There is a lot to do. It seems to me that, despite missteps and setbacks, the University of Rhode Island has a tradition of dedication to diversity, equity, and community on which to build. We have a growing commitment to building a strong and diverse community among students, staff, faculty, and the administration. I think it is also important for us to pursue this goal, as well as our others, in an open and transparent fashion. One cannot solve problems while trying to ignore or hide them. It will take time and a lot of effort, but I am confident we can succeed at URI.