In Response to the Unity Banquet Keynote Speech

Dear Observer Staff,

I am writing in response to the Unity Banquet keynote speech given by nationally recognized journalist Jeff Johnson on April 10 here at Case Western Reserve University. This letter is from a personal point of view not representing any student organization. In case you haven’t heard about the speech, it can be described by two words: powerful and perfect. Many people were made uncomfortable by it, some were offended, and others might think that it went too far, but Johnson’s speech was just what we needed here at CWRU.

Last semester, the #webelonghere movement brought attention to some of our campus’ most serious issues. The general CWRU community learned how many students have felt attacked, disrespected, insulted, excluded, micro-aggressed and unwelcomed here at CWRU, and we learned that many students feel this way on a daily basis. The movement brought attention to many issues that everyone on this campus needs to know more about, and hopefully we have continued learning and reflected on our privilege since that first #webelonghere meeting in the Tinkham Veale University Center on Sept. 28, 2014.

The #webelonghere movement created goals and had meetings with administrators and has found some success, La Alianza met with administrators and has become stronger, other groups are getting their voices heard more, and we have been blessed with Diversity 360, but Johnson challenged the administration on whether it is doing all that it can to make CWRU a diverse and inclusive institution.

Johnson led us to think of some important questions: How many underrepresented minority (URM) first-year students enrolled for the fall 2015 semester? How are the enrollment trends looking? What is our URM student graduation rate? By when will we cover 100 percent of student financial need? How many CWRU students are from Cleveland underprivileged communities, and why not more? What is your plan to better support URM students? And most importantly, are diversity and inclusion fundamental values of this institution?

Johnson told us students that in order to see change at CWRU, we need to see numbers and concrete plans. We need to see metrics at next year’s Unity Banquet showing how much we have improved in the last year, and the banquet can serve as a perfect space for the administration to share the plans on how we will continue to become more diverse and inclusive. I will also add that we student leaders should play our role and help these efforts as much as possible while maintaining focus on our academics.

Johnson said the complete truth at the Unity Banquet. We don’t just need symbolism and talk here at CWRU, from the administration or from students. We need to have more numerically proven change. Our university needs to expand the numbers of underrepresented minority students here, along with creating a stronger community, and perhaps, as Johnson put it, we need to pursue that faster than at the rate at which we “acquire property.”

Hiram Cortez