Recent events compel me to restate MSU’s commitment to inclusion and to providing a supportive environment in which all of our students can succeed. In particular, the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday, August 12, 2017 and the memo by James Damore, then an engineer at Google who questioned the ability of women in computer science, challenge our basic assumptions about equality, inclusion, and freedom of expression. At times such as these it is important to plainly and clearly state our values.
We, the MSU community, believe that all human beings possess fundamental rights and fundamental value. As an institution, we believe that every admitted student has the capacity to graduate in a timely manner. We believe that all of us at Michigan State University have the responsibility to help individuals reach their fullest potential and to address the structural barriers that impede their efforts.
These two recent events – and others like them – have serious effects on our students, who are maturing and discovering their place in our campus, state, nation, and world. These occurrences raise difficult and vital questions for our community, such as:
· As a predominantly White, middle-class, heterosexual, and cisgender institution, how do we cultivate an environment that demonstrates our acceptance of and support for all students as well as our rejection of white supremacy and all other forms of identity-based hatred?
· What role can we play in redressing the structural impediments that hinder the success of students, especially when those barriers disproportionately affect people of particular races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religions, abilities, and/or other protected statuses or backgrounds?
· In short, what does inclusion look like in practice, and how can we instill our commitment to inclusion into MSU culture?
Questions like these will continue to be a major focus of the Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education. We look forward to working with the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, as well as students, faculty, staff, and administrators from across campus in addressing them. This obligation to explain and embody our values openly and honestly is an educational imperative just as profound and fundamental as teaching Shakespeare or inventing new technologies. Our goal is to build an inclusive Spartan community.
As colleagues, I ask that you join us in this important work. Your efforts to support all students in pursuing their goals, while giving them the realistic advice and counsel needed to accomplish them, is crucial to their success. Your work is particularly important for our incoming students, and for students beyond the first year who may be questioning their own abilities or their place on campus. Together, and in collaboration with the faculty, we can create a campus environment in which every student gets the encouragement and assistance needed to succeed.
Finally, I want to note that we may well have students who disagree with some of the norms on which this letter rests. Everyone has the right to their own opinion and the freedom to express it, but as an institution we have the obligation to explain and to act on our institutional values. We will support all of our students, regardless of their opinions, but we must also make clear the standards of behavior expected in our community. I am confident that, working together, we can reach the vast majority of our students, and thereby create an inclusive environment for all.