April 10, 2019
The events from the past few days have left me saddened and disappointed. I understand why members of our community are hurt and angry. Words can wound. We cannot separate a racist word from its context or from the pain it causes members of our community. Racist language does not reflect our values.
As an institution, we are on a journey to make progress on issues of inclusion, diversity, and belonging. There will be steps backward and forward, but we will continue on this path together as a community, with the healing we need to do, and the progress we need to continue to make.
Late Saturday night, our Campus Life team, other staff, and faculty stepped in immediately to work with students who were directly involved with the situation. As Dr. Aw (Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence) indicated, our actions are guided by the Student Code of Conduct, which does not prohibit specific words, even when they are abhorrent, without also considering the circumstances in which they are spoken. If that speech is used as an expression of bias in the context of threats, acts of violence, discrimination, or in conjunction with other violations of the Student Code of Conduct, then the Code warrants disciplinary action.
For those who attended our recent event with Dr. Beverly Tatum, you will appreciate why her points about the importance of dialogue have come back to me again and again since Saturday night. It’s time to engage in the restorative work necessary for healing. While education and dialogue might not feel like progress that is fast enough, we know they are essential to creating an inclusive community.
As an institution of learning committed to the robust exchange of ideas, we’re founded on the idea that education can make a difference. Through recognizing wrongs, calling them out when they occur, and working together, we all can grow and learn together. The burden of education cannot exclusively fall on people of color. It must fall on all of us. We’re founded on the idea that learning matters, that scholarship matters.
As we move forward, there will be much more discussion – in both formal and informal channels. Our Counseling Center, Offices of Campus Life, the Office of Academic Affairs, and CTRL are available for you.
We should also be prepared that voices from outside our community will join in. Some may offer insight; others may be looking to divide. I hope we proceed through the next days with care and a focus on our community. Through the moments of hurt and understanding, I hope we can come together.
I believe that our community is strong enough to learn and continue growing.
Sylvia M. Burwell
President, American University