Mobley on the importance of campus climate

Letter to the editor

To the editor,

The recent article in The Observer indicating that the university was investigating an incident of racist graffiti found in Fribley Commons was a critical reminder that our campus climate needs more work to be the kind of campus where everyone can thrive. We seek to be a diverse, inclusive university that is not only free from all forms of discrimination, but that actually celebrates our differences.

As the university’s Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity and Chief Diversity Officer, I understand the work of diversity and inclusion from what I call a “both/and” perspective. I understand that the work of making our campus a welcoming campus requires that we both address the needs of all students, faculty and staff and pay attention when any one group faces particular challenges on our campus and/or within a national context. Silence around issues of race, for example, does more harm than good.

There have been collaborative efforts by the student leaders of the #webelonghere movement, the Social Justice Institute, founded and directed by Dr. Rhonda Williams, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (led by Naomi Sigg) and my office. On Dec. 9, 2014, we hosted “From Ferguson to Cleveland,” a campus-wide forum to discuss the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and the ways in which local and national events are connected to and affect campus climate. On that occasion, I spoke about the personal, social and political connections of such events to our lived lives.

Last semester was marked by the founding of the #webelonghere movement and by President Barbara R. Snyder’s email to the campus community in response to anonymous racist posts on social media. I applaud her message reminding us that diversity is a core value at Case Western Reserve University. We do not and will not tolerate racist behavior on our campus. Since my arrival in 2009, we have sought to raise the level of awareness about the value of advancing diversity and inclusion on campus, but clearly there is more to do beyond the speakers, the programs and the reports of progress. We cannot speak about diversity in broad terms and not acknowledge the need to speak openly and candidly about race. We cannot speak about the issue of race on campus and ignore the historical, national context of racism, oppression and white supremacy that makes some believe it is okay to disrespect people on the basis of their race or ethnicity. We cannot be concerned about sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual identity/expression, religion, age, disability, Veteran status, national origin or political perspective, and overlook racism. Our campus read-ins and teach-ins have created dynamic gatherings to think critically and speak forcefully about changes we need to see on campus, in our communities and around the nation. Our campus is not the only campus attempting to deal with these issues. However just as we have been a leader in research of all kinds on this campus, we must seek to lead in the area of diversity and inclusion.

What does being a leader look like? It means that individuals can come to this campus and work, learn and lead in ways that affirm their presence, that respect their identity and that allow them to be productive and reach their full potential. It means that in campus climate from the classroom to the Tinkham Veale University Center, from the residence halls to office suites, we treat one another the way we want to be treated. It means we have the cross-cultural humility and empathy necessary to speak up about discriminatory behavior when we see it or hear it.

Through programs such as Sustained Dialogue and Diversity 360, a new campus-wide initiative that is being developed this semester, we can break the silences that need to be broken around race and other forms of oppression. We need to create safe spaces for courageous conversations about these matters for the benefit of our entire campus community. In many ways, we have already begun the very kind of work that needs to be done. But the incident in Fribley indicates that we need to do even more.

Marilyn Mobley, Ph.D
Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity & Equal Opportunity