March 16, 2015
March 16, 2015
Dear members of the SMU community:
You may know that over spring break, the University of Oklahoma learned of an incident of racism that has generated national attention and concern. On a bus trip, a group of fraternity members sang offensive, racist songs, caught on camera and widely distributed through social and other media. The OU Administration has acted decisively on this matter.
When such a serious issue arises at one college or university, all of us in higher education should take note. We all face challenges as we educate young people in their disciplines and also for their roles in a civil society and a global marketplace. Our responsibilities include encouraging and exhibiting respect for each other, supporting the diversity that SMU values as an institution of higher education.
At each year’s Opening Convocation, I comment that I realize there are new students in the audience who do not come from diverse environments, a situation that can be true for students of any race or ethnicity. My point is to express that diversity represents an integral part of our academic mission, and that on this campus, there are opportunities to interact with – and learn from – a broad group of students.
This is a time for all of us to reaffirm our values. I am proud that SMU students themselves led the development of our Values Statement: "I, as a citizen of the SMU community, commit myself to upholding the values of intellectual integrity, academic honesty, personal responsibility, and sincere regard and respect for all SMU students, faculty, and staff."
To fulfill this pledge, we include diversity programs during first-year orientation sessions, discussions in the Residential Commons led by a diversity action team and a required three-hour course on the contributions of a wide range of people to our world.
There are more than 20 student organizations focused on diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, with several more representing specific denominations. At this time, Vice President for Student Affairs Lori White is establishing an ad hoc group of staff, students and faculty to examine Greek life and diversity at SMU. The President’s Commission on the Status of Racial Minorities continues to monitor our efforts and results. We know that we have made progress, but we also know that there is more to be done. As our SMU student body president, Ramon Trespalacios, wisely reminds his fellow students, “Appreciation for the value of each member of the SMU community is an ongoing process.”
This is also a time to take action. I urge SMU students to participate in dialogue and programs through your organizations, residence halls and Greek houses. Faculty members may want to initiate class discussion of the OU situation and related issues. All of us can pledge to intervene if we hear or see offensive behavior occurring.
If there are specific issues you want to bring to our attention, we encourage you to use our campus resources, listed after this letter along with a link to our University Policy on non-discrimination.
As we resume our studies and work schedules, I ask all members of the University community to reaffirm their own commitment to providing an open, welcoming and inclusive environment enabling all of our students, faculty and staff to do their best work. As faculty members have reminded us, what happened at the University of Oklahoma can be a “teachable moment” for all of us. Let’s keep learning together.
R. Gerald Turner
Office of Multicultural Student Affairs
Women & LGBT Center
Office of Institutional Access and Equity
Office of the Dean of Student Life
214-768-2277 (confidential counseling; an emergency contact number is provided 24/7)
214-768-4502 (confidential counseling)
Residence Life and Student Housing