Oct. 6, 2016
To: DU community
A university is a place for learning—for a free exchange of ideas. DU is a place where students, faculty and staff from all backgrounds come together around a common mission. Our aspiration is nothing short of a robust, engaged community where conflicting ideas are discussed and considered with open minds and genuine intentions.
In the last few weeks, we have witnessed an escalation of messaging on the “free speech wall” outside Driscoll Student Center that directly speaks to the racial tensions in our nation. Earlier this morning, a message was written across several panels of the wall, including the lyrics to a song, “Guilty of Being White,” by Minor Threat. The message read: “The worst guilt is to accept unearned guilt. I’m convicted of a racist crime; I’ve only served 19 years of guilty of being white. I’m sorry for something I didn’t do, lynched somebody but I didn’t know who. Guilty of being white.”
It is our tendency as a nation to oversimplify complex issues. To admit that some of us carry privileges in this world simply because of the whiteness of their skin can feel like an indictment. We understand how some may be threatened by the notion that they inherited privileges from prior generations. And yet, that reflection and admission is exactly what we must do if we seek to build a better future for all.
Yesterday’s State of the University address focused on our educational mission, geared toward creating ethical leaders: “National news reminds us, nearly daily, that throughout society, our differences continue to define us and divide us. Some of us face obstacles, even threats to our lives, because of the color of our skin, the people we love, the uniforms we wear, the gods we worship or the beliefs we hold. As ethical leaders, we are charged to do all we can to change our systems, our culture, and our relationships.”
Our work begins with an acceptance of our complicated histories. The acceptance of the atrocities of our past does not erase the many moments of brilliance and hope also contained in those same histories. We are beneficiaries of both the good and the bad of our histories.
Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement does not make one anti-police or anti-white. Discussing and analyzing systems of oppression does not mean that all individuals of a certain group are bigots. Talking about implicit bias is meant to expand our appreciation of the complexities of the problem, not to dole out judgments.
It is possible and necessary that we hold ourselves accountable to a higher standard and that accountability does not suggest disparagement. Spraypaint on a wall is not enough to promote the kinds of serious conversations we need in order to understand one another—to listen, discuss, disagree and even argue in respectful ways. We must not leave any stone unturned, any action uncorrected, or any possibility for justice unaddressed. Let us make this truly a beloved community for all, and let us serve as a model to Denver and beyond.
We are continuing to create opportunities for people to come together and engage in these dialogues in constructive ways. Please see upcoming events and other resources available to our community. And, as always, we invite your ideas and feedback.
Rebecca Chopp, Chancellor
Gregg Kvistad, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Lili Rodriguez, Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence
Frank Tuitt, Special Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, and Professor of Higher Education