Black History Month and fostering conversation about racism

February 16, 2015

President Coltrane sent the following email to campus about Black History Month and fostering campus conversations about racism:

February’s designation as Black History Month presents us with an opportunity to reflect on past and current victories and challenges for racial equality in the U.S. I think we can all agree that our country has come a long way since great leaders like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis fought to ensure our country truly lived up to the United States Constitution’s promise of liberty and justice for all.

Yet we still see instances of racism playing out too frequently. We witnessed it in the troubling deaths of black men and youth at the hands of police officers in 2014. We saw it in the senseless violence against two New York City police officers in December. I am also deeply dismayed and saddened at the recent killing of three Muslim young people in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My thoughts are with all the families during this difficult time. And we know racism is not merely present in isolated incidents, but throughout many of our institutions.

The University of Oregon is committed to making sure that all of our students feel safe and welcomed on campus. Nothing is more important to me than providing every member of our campus community with a place to excel in their academic pursuits and their lives as a whole.

Several departments on campus have extended an offer to speak with students, staff and faculty members who wish to express their feelings about any of the shootings or concerns about discrimination in their own lives. Counselors at the University Counseling Center, and staff from the Office of International Affairs, Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence, Dean of Students office, Division of Student Life, and Division of Equity and Inclusion are all available for help and support.

Additionally, universities have long been centers for debate and academic inquiry. Our talented faculty and staff are an ideal group to lead thoughtful discussions about equity, racial justice, civil and human rights, and social responsibility. They offer a variety of perspectives and have a unique ability to raise them in the public consciousness. As we prepare our students to be leaders in a globally diverse world, we need all be engaged in conversations preparing us all  to interact across difference, and consider the role of power and inequality in our society.

We have begun these conversations in many corners of the university. In December, the Division of Equity and Inclusion hosted a well-attended roundtable called “I Can’t Breathe: A Conversation Starter About Racism, Justice and Love.” The Division of Student Life hosted two conversation forums in January to discuss recent events and social unrest in Ferguson. The Ethnic Studies Department and other units on campus have also provided venues for these issues. I thank these divisions and departments, and everyone who attended these events for starting a much-needed conversation.

This campus-wide discussion must continue. This month, I plan to bring together campus leadership for an organized discussion of how the University of Oregon can add to local and national discussions around race, justice, and personal safety, and what actions we can take to promote justice on our campus and beyond. I would like to see more people talking about, teaching about, and conducting research on issues related to equity and equality. If you need help framing discussions or finding support for your research, I encourage you to take advantage of the excellent resources available within the Division of Equity and Inclusion.

Now is a great time for all of us to practice skills associated with deliberative democracy, including debating ideas, engaging in active listening, and feeling empathy for people with different backgrounds and opinions. Some might say the future of our democracy depends on such discussions.

Thank you for all you are doing to make our campus and our world a more just, safe place for everyone.


Scott Coltrane
Interim President