December 1, 2003

Town hall searches for community

By Michael Terrazas

A crowd of roughly 400 came to Glenn Auditorium the afternoon of Nov. 24 to hear President Jim Wagner address the concept of community at Emory in light of recent culturally insensitive incidents on campus.

The town hall meeting represented an opportunity for open communication among Emory students, faculty and staff, and it was co-sponsored by the president’s office and by the Concerned Students Coalition (CSC), which formed recently in direct response to two incidents—the use of a racial epithet by anthropology Professor Carol Worthman in a department meeting in September, and the attendance of two (non-Emory) students in blackface at a campus Halloween party—and the University’s response to those incidents.

Amanda Edwards, a member of the coalition and president of College Council, read aloud a letter the CSC sent to Wagner last week, calling upon the president to enact a range of initiatives from reopening an Office of Equal Opportunity Programs investigation into the Worthman incident, to mandating campuswide diversity training, to the creation of a vice president-level position dedicated exclusively to promoting and ensuring diversity on campus.

“President Wagner has highlighted the phrase ‘where there is no vision, the people will perish,’ but it is when that vision refuses to acknowledge the atrocities in front of its very eyes and denies the need for change that true peril ensues,” Edwards read. “We cannot allow the community to perish by choosing not to proactively assault the cancerous division that disconnects one from another. We wish to foster a community that is indeed priceless and long awaited in our University. These recent events should be the catalyst for our collective growth and should strengthen our allegiance to the principles to which we have so long professed.”

In his remarks, Wagner compared a diverse scholarly community to a good marriage and said maintaining it requires effort. Despite the well documented successes Emory has enjoyed in recruitment of minority students and faculty, Wagner said, “We’re not there yet.”

“Building a true community depends upon our ability to interact, not just coexist,” he said. “If diversity were just statistics, Emory could be tempted to proclaim victory. But we’re not here today because we’ve had success in building community on top of those numbers.”

Wagner tried to respond as specifically as he could to the CSC’s letter. He said there currently is an appeal of the EOP investigation in anthropology, and that appeal must be allowed to run its course before any further action is taken. He agreed to publicize the EOP’s grievance policy as well as any statistics that have been compiled
about acts of intolerance. He also agreed to keep the community informed of these efforts through a regular communication such as a column in Emory Report.

The president said he is forming an advisory group to examine past diversity studies and efforts, and he will rely upon that group to make recommendations on such requests as the creation of a diversity post in administration, with a decision coming possibly as soon as January 2004.

On the request for mandatory diversity training across campus, Wagner said he does not support such a move at this time. “Some diversity training is seen as a one-size-fits-all approach, and sometimes it simply engenders more resentment,” Wagner said.

The question of diversity training was addressed extensively in the Q&A session that followed Wagner’s remarks. Some attendents felt the training receives a bad reputation, and done correctly it does not have to be the exercise in “re-education” some people perceive it be. Others felt that mandatory diversity training violated principles of due process and individual rights, in effect punishing an entire community for the acts of only a few people.