In a message this week to the University community, President Kaplan pledged to lead a University-wide effort to ensure that diversity, inclusion and equity are at the heart of all we do.
January 19, 2021
Dear Members of the University Community,
Yesterday, we celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who gave and lost his life over a half a century ago to the fight to bring about racial justice in our country. Many would argue that the gains we have made since have been diminished in recent years and that we have taken significant steps backwards. I would agree.
Starting with the current administration's response to the tragedy in Charlottesville and its ban on students from certain Muslim countries entering the United States, many of our students have told me repeatedly and forcefully that they felt increasingly uncomfortable, and even threatened, by the racial climate in this country. I say this not to take a position on any politician or party. As your president, I should not and will not do that. However, I am obligated by my position to take a stance on the actions or rhetoric of any politician or party that directly impacts our students.
I ask you to join me as a unified community in opening a new chapter in our own history.
In this context, as the president of an institution of higher learning committed to the values of the United States Constitution, and as our nation finalizes what will hopefully be a peaceful transition of power, I ask you to join me as a unified community in opening a new chapter in our own history. We must meet the racist rhetoric and hostility in the broader society by creating an institutional environment at the University of New Haven in which all in our community feel welcome and safe.
Beyond the global pandemic, events of the past year have caused me to reconsider my role and my responsibility as president in fostering and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our University community. The systemic indifference to generations of racism and denialism resulting in the senseless killing of so many Black and brown Americans and culminating in a white nationalist attempted coup of the government has no place in our culture, and can no longer be addressed passively on our campus.
As part of my reflection, it has become abundantly apparent to me that I have not done enough as president to ensure all members of our community feel welcome and accepted. I must do more to honestly and critically confront the issues before us – and take action.
I have not fulfilled my own words with strong enough actions; and while I have sent out several heartfelt messages over the past year and beyond, speaking up against hate and condemning bigotry in all its forms, I have heard from a large number of students in recent weeks that these messages, along with the actions we have taken, have not been sufficient in creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment on campus. They expect and deserve more.
My pledge to you, then, is that I will do more. In addition to recently appointing a vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion and elevating that position to the cabinet, I am committed to devoting additional human resources to the Myatt Center and in support of our LGBTQ+ community. That will include hiring an individual full-time to lead our Pride Center and increasing the current, half-time senior coordinator position in the Myatt Center to full-time. We will soon be announcing the new director of the Myatt Center as well.
In the coming weeks, I will share a detailed plan with the community about how we will ensure that diversity, inclusion, and equity are at the heart of all we do. We will take actionable steps against racism and put diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of, for example, our strategic plan, our Student Code of Conduct, the faculty handbook, University hiring, and evaluation processes for all employees.
I have heard from current students and alumni who have expressed in very poignant ways their disillusionment with the University's inability to create an atmosphere where individuals from underrepresented backgrounds feel valued, accepted, and supported. In particular, they have expressed anger for how we have responded to issues of racism and intolerance.
I greatly regret that we have not done more.
This is my promise to all of you. I will always encourage, welcome, and embrace participation in peaceful protest, civil disobedience, and opportunities to debate and critically examine all sides of policies, issues, and ideas that are important to us, with the understanding that sometimes we will have to agree to disagree.
What I will not tolerate are efforts to diminish the responsibility we have as individuals to understand that our words and actions matter – and that they have consequences. Nor will I debate the obligation we have to be empathetic, kind, and compassionate individuals.
What happened in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, and the denial by so many of a valid conclusion to the most sacred of our democratic institutions, the election of a president, was a terrifying and insidious breach of norms that define our country.
In some ways, the insurrection at the Capitol was the horrifying expression of the loud chorus of claims of election fraud that for weeks attempted, in part, to deny millions of Black and brown Americans a voice in our democratic process. As much as the violence, the sight of confederate flags and anti-Semitic clothing in the Capitol Rotunda was sickening.
Ultimately, I realize that actions speak louder than words. I expect everyone at the University to hold me and others accountable for the important role we have in making the progress needed to ensure our community represents – for everyone – the ideals and values we are proud of. We owe it to ourselves and to each other.
With best wishes,
Steven H Kaplan, Ph.D.