Dear Emory community:
It is Unity Month at Emory, a time during which we seek to understand
and to celebrate the diversity within our community--diversity of
cultures, races, experiences, lifestyles, religions, political
opinions and intellectual perspectives. All the activities of this
month are done in the name of building a stronger community, as
well as preparing and encouraging us to take those building skills
with us throughout our lives and beyond our campus.
be a true scholarly community, a university must be a safe place,
but not just for diverse groups and individuals to coexist. That
is not enough. A university community must be a safe place, of
course, but it must also encourage encounter and engagement between
diverse groups. We do not aspire to blend ourselves into a uniform
mix of compromise. Unity is not the same as uniformity. But rather,
we must aspire to civil, even passionate (but never violent), encounter
and discourse to build respect for others and to enrich ourselves.
to be sure, in the process of encounter and engagement, it will
happen at times that scholarly opinions and theories held by some
will upset and even offend others. That much is to be expected
and can (and should) lead to loud and passionate exchanges. However,
certain expressions and mocking behaviors--even in the course of
scholarly exchange--can have an effect far beyond evoking passion.
It can in fact be hurtful and highly inappropriate--verbally, visually
and emotionally hurtful.
such very damaging incidents have occurred recently on our campus
in which words and actions opened painful wounds for many members
of our community and, therefore, hurt our entire community. You
know of both of these incidents, as they have been reported on
recently in The Wheel. In the case of our Halloween break-dancers
who showed up in blackface costume, the students presumably did
not understand the offensive racial history of blackface in America.
Still, there was a wound. And in the case of Professor Carol Worthman's
use of a racial epithet, certainly she did know the term was highly
offensive and inappropriate, but very wrongly assumed it would
not be considered so in the context in which she used it. While
she is now deeply remorseful, there has again been a hurtful wound
to our community.
have systems in place to deal with individual incidents such as
these, and those systems are running their course. People make
mistakes, often inadvertent ones, and there must be consequences.
And let there be no mistake, I deplore the use of blackface and
the use of racial epithets. But I also recognize that here there
have been consequences and atonement, and I hope forgiveness will
deeper concern than the individual incidents is how we must react
to them as a wake-up call that the business of building real community
is not a passive one. Rather, just like any would-be strong
relationship, the relationships within our community must be given
deliberate and ongoing attention. We must work now not just to
heal but to learn from these mistakes and go beyond healing to
work continuously to build strength as never before in the fabric
of our community.
Unity Month, and beyond, let us work together to educate, sensitize
and restore our community in such a way that we can all join together
in our quest for a true community of understanding and diversity.
I welcome and encourage you to join with me in that quest, and
look forward not to putting incidents like the ones of late in
the past, but instead using them in the present as learning experiences
to help us all communally move forward.