Race to inclusion - February 23, 2016

February 23, 2016

Dear Gettysburg College Community,

Over the course of the academic year, a series of posters have been displayed causing many students to feel marginalized and misrepresented by negative stereotypes. I write to you today because posters that were hung last week in numerous locations on campus singled out African-American women in an effort to promote pro-life positions. These posters also made misleading use of “Black Lives Matter.” It is important to foster dialogue about political and social issues affecting the entire country and uphold a key element of our mission that is the “free and open marketplace of ideas,” but we must find ways to do this in a creative, productive, and effective manner.

We believe that these posters, and others that have been displayed this academic year that singled out groups through the use of language such as “anchor babies,” have been promoted by a small group of students on campus. The posters have perpetuated a chilly climate for some of our students, faculty, and staff. Students directly and indirectly affected by these posters have expressed frustration and anger. That type of climate is not in line with the environment our community seeks to uphold. As Professor Scott Hancock remarked recently: My hope is that shining a bright light on the type of dialogue that this poster and others seem to persistently employ, along with a pointed critique of it, will no longer let controversial, shallow, sensationalist, intellectually vacuous messages monopolize the public dialogue.

We came together last month at a student-organized Town Hall meeting to discuss the issues of race and racism on campus. While the Town Hall was an excellent start to forging dialogue about how we can create a more inclusive environment, we would be mistaken to think that it would solve all of the issues on this campus related to race and racism in a single event. That being said, it is the on-going obligation of this institution to educate our community about how to engage in controversial ideas and opinions without undermining the values of Gettysburg College—that is upholding “the worth and dignity of all people” and “sensitivity to the human condition.”

At the Town Hall, President Riggs and Provost Zappe spoke about a number of actions the College is taking. In addition, I will establish a bias response team this semester focused on proactive education. In consultation with the bias response team, the Student Life Committee will review policies related to on-campus postings and bias. Student input, beyond student membership on the Student Life Committee, will be a significant part of this process.

I want to reiterate what President Riggs said in her email following the Town Hall: We must embrace difference; we must take up frank and respectful dialogue and discussion; we must be eager to learn from one another.

We are committed to making Gettysburg College a more diverse and inclusive community while providing an environment where issues can be openly discussed and explored. However, success requires that individual members of this community demonstrate their commitment to making Gettysburg College a more inclusive and welcoming campus through their actions.

Please watch the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website for upcoming opportunities to get involved and play an active role in making Gettysburg a more inclusive community. One of the most valuable things you can do right now is take part in the Campus Climate Study to help us set a foundation for our ongoing work. The study closes at 11:59 pm tonight.