Emory Report

May 1, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 31

An open letter from President Bill Chace

I take this occasion to bring our collective attention once again to the vexed and frequently painful subject of racial tension and misunderstanding on our campus. I do so not because I believe Emory is "racist" as an institution, but because I believe that genuine racial understanding can be achieved here only if we periodically challenge our own convictions and assumptions about "how things are going."

In certain ways, and in certain areas of the campus, they have not been going as well as we know they can. In a recent meeting with six members of Students for a Unified Emory, I have come to a deeper recognition that both the flying of the Confederate flag from a fraternity house and the appearance of a student wearing blackface in a photograph in the 1998-99 campus yearbook have proven exceptionally offensive to members of the African American community at Emory. I am deeply disturbed by that fact and regret the circumstances of both the flag and the photograph.

No member of this community should have to experience offense from the actions of others. I think we can, and must, rebuke acts that are meant to demean, and therefore I say again, as I have in the past, that we condemn actions that are racist or that belittle those of another gender or sexual orientation. At Emory, we know that we are all in this process of learning and teaching together.

But how to act on this knowledge?

The answer, I believe, rests first on a rededication to the principles of fairness embodied in the University's Discriminatory Harassment Policy. Let me cite those principles:

It is the policy of Emory University that all employees and students should be able to enjoy and work in an educational environment free from discriminatory harassment. Harassment of any person or group of persons on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability or veteran's status is a form of discrimination specifically prohibited in the Emory University community. Any employee, student, student organization or person privileged to work or study in the Emory University community who violates this policy will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including permanent exclusion from the University.

Discriminatory harassment includes conduct (oral, written, graphic or physical) directed against any person or group of persons because of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability or veteran's status and that has the purpose or reasonably foreseeable effect of creating an offensive, demeaning, intimidating or hostile environment for that person or group of persons. Such conduct includes, but is not limited to, objectionable epithets, demeaning depictions or treatment, and threatened or actual abuse or harm.

Those principles are conjoined with the equally fundamental understanding, as the policy goes on to say, that "academic freedom be allowed to all members of the academic community." As everyone who has reflected on these matters understands, the principle of decent respect for others can sometimes stand in tension with the principle of academic freedom.

Our collective understanding of both discriminatory harassment and academic freedom will be given renewed vitality and greater substance as we look forward to the Year of Reconciliation, a year which we will enter this fall. The Year of Reconciliation, 2000-2001, will provide many occasions-seminars, forums, workshops and the like-at which we will focus on the deeper meaning of equality, freedom of expression, fairness and respect. I look forward to that year and to the greater strength it will give to the Emory community.

Students for a Unified Emory has asked that the University undertake certain tasks. Some of these can be accomplished; some cannot. The group has asked that the Epsilon chapter of Kappa Alpha Order be suspended from the campus for at least five years. I am obliged to respond that no such suspension can be taken--indeed, no sanctions of any student organization can be taken--without a proper hearing and adjudication before the appropriate bodies. The good news is that such a process is now under way; we must await its outcome.

Students for a Unified Emory has also asked that mandatory coursework focusing on American cultural inequalities be added to the undergraduate distribution requirements. While I am wholly in favor of all Emory undergraduates knowing as much as possible about the history of this country, all matters of the curriculum and its design are in hands of the faculty (not the central administration), to which this request will promptly be referred through the dean of Emory College.

Thirdly, Students for a Unified Emory has asked that students in the Freshman Advising and Mentoring at Emory (FAME) program be informed about the University's Equal Opportunity Policy, its implications and procedures, and a retrospective analysis of how well it has worked in the past. This is wholly reasonable, owing to the fact that students should be fully aware of the most important of the University's policies and procedures. Those leading the FAME program will be asked about the best ways to bring those policies to the full attention of incoming students.

And, lastly, Students for a Unified Emory has asked that the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services be moved from its present location in the Woodruff Residential Hall to the Dobbs Center, which they cite as a better location. The question of the best location of the office is one about which I will need very good advice from those officially responsible for it. As soon as that advice and guidance is received, the decision about such location will promptly be made.

I end this letter with full acknowledgment and an expression of thanks for the responsible, diplomatic and fair-minded leadership of Students for a Unified Emory. We will have ended this academic year in a stronger and more fully informed way thanks to their diligence and persistence in making sure that Emory lives up to its aspirations to be a decent, equitable and supportive educational community.

Return to May 1, 2000 contents page