November 2, 2009,
Thank you all for having me here today at the 15th Annual University of Colorado at Boulder Diversity and Inclusion Summit. It's a pleasure to be here with you.
The Diversity Summit is our opportunity each year to demonstrate who we are, and to celebrate who we want to become.
"Who we are" is changing all the time, and for the better. This year, our undergraduates of color went up by nearly 100 enrolled from last year. Overall, ethnic minorities comprise 15.1 percent of undergraduates, compared to 14.9 percent in 2008.
This marks a 3 percent increase in the enrollment of students of color compared to 1 percent for non-minority students. And the news is even better for our graduate students, of which CU-Boulder has enrolled the highest number ever, 520. That is 29 more than last year and 22 more than the previous high in 1995.
These numbers are not high enough. They don't represent where we want to be, and they give us only a tiny, two-dimensional glimpse of who we are as a campus – a numerical glimpse. But what should really inspire us is what the numbers tell us about the communities that have delivered these students to us.
They represent hopes and dreams coming to be realized – hopes of individuals and dreams of entire communities.
The numbers represent generations of struggle, toil and triumph over oppression. They represent stories of families and peoples, and they represent the bright future of cultures and ethnicities, neighborhoods, communities, and nations, especially our nation.
We owe those communities, nations and cultures our best efforts to continue this progress. Events such as the Diversity Summit help us to do that; to envision who we would like to become as individuals, and as a community.
I would like to talk to you today about the challenges we as individuals, and as a community, face in this process of becoming truly diverse, and perhaps offer you some inspiration for the good work you are doing in meeting these challenges.
I believe in diversity as a value because, quite simply, it was all I ever knew growing up in Steubenville, Ohio. My hometown sits on the banks of the Ohio River, and like most river towns, it is diversity personified. It is located at a literal crossroads – a transportation hub with coalfields, steel mills, the river and highways all in close proximity, and agriculture not far away.
My parents were first-generation Italian-Americans; my grandparents were Italian immigrants. It's probably hard for many of you to believe, but Italian-Americans, even into my young adulthood, were spoken of and disparaged in much the same way that people today disparage undocumented workers from Mexico and Central America.
Like today's immigrants, they took the hard jobs, the dirty jobs, the thankless jobs that others did not want to do, and built a life out of that hard work.
I grew up among diverse peoples, languages and cultures: Italians, Scots, Irish and Welsh, African Americans and people of Eastern European descent. There were Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, and a host of other faiths practiced openly in my town.
There were rich and poor, union and non-union. My own parents were small-town merchants. Steubenville is called the "City of Murals" because of a series of murals that adorn many of the buildings in town – paintings that represent diversity in beautiful and graphic terms. In a way, growing up there imprinted a mural upon me, too. It has shaped the way I encounter and embrace diversity.
Later in life I experienced more diversity of people, experiences and ideas at Ohio State and West Virginia University. I studied and learned with people unlike myself, in a time when America was beginning to confront its past and chart a new future. The Civil Rights, anti-war and feminist movements all unfolded in my time as a college student, changing my thinking, and the nation's thinking, on a grand scale.
I know first hand as a first-generation college student that diversity and inclusion have made a real difference in who I am today. And I want you to know that as chancellor, these experiences are never far from me as I confront the difficulties and decisions our university faces. I was the beneficiary of being raised in a diverse environment, and of being included as an undergraduate, and later a PhD student at Ohio State University, and also as a graduate student at West Virginia.
Diversity to me is not a policy decision. It is not "political correctness." It is not a dogma or a slogan. It has been a real and functional part of my life that has enriched my career – made me see more clearly, understand more deeply and lead more compassionately and wisely. My goal is, and always has been, to extend its blessings and rewards to our students, faculty, staff and community.
And I believe the national moment we are in affords us the opportunity to do that. Just look at the leadership around us. Our president embodies diversity and inclusion, along with our Secretary of State and our Attorney General. Our state embodies diversity and inclusion. We have the first openly gay congressman in Colorado's history, Jared Polis, who represents this very district.
Our university embodies diversity and inclusion in the person of its leaders such as our Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, Sallye McKee; our Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Julie Wong; our Dean of Libraries, James Williams; our Chief of Police, Joe Roy; and in three of the associate deans of our Law School, as well as hundreds of other faculty, staff and administrators.
Diversity is found as well in the composition of our student body, in the vibrant subject matter we embrace for study and research, in the communities we serve and seek to serve, and in the many ways we interact with one another.
Looking outward, the discussions and debates our nation is having – how to include more people in health care, how to dialogue with other nations in a new and more positive way, how to achieve more fairness and equity in our economy – are all dialogues rooted in diversity and inclusion.
So this is a profound, exciting moment in the life of the nation and in the life of CU. We cannot afford to squander it. As individuals, we have a profound charge to listen to one another, even as we engage in debate. We must tell each other our stories in all their complexity, and we must listen to those stories and absorb their meaning.
As a community, we have an obligation to do more than simply be angry and passionate. We have to be committed to making real progress. We have to have better and more reasoned exchanges, and more focused dialogues, than what we hear on talk radio, or what we have seen played out on YouTube over issues like healthcare.
Two years ago, we demonstrated the power of confronting one another honestly, listening carefully, and working together creatively. As a response to an objectionable editorial in the Campus Press, we held forums and town meetings. The Campus Press leadership listened to wounded members of the community tell their stories. Members of the community listened and learned about the First Amendment and the power of positive speech as a match for objectionable speech.
Today, the result of that confrontation is that the CU Independent, the successor to the Campus Press, has a Diversity Advisory Board that has made a real difference in the content and the editorial approach of the publication. The publication itself has the largest and most diverse staff in its history, tackling more diverse subjects in print than ever before, and giving voice to more diverse groups of students than ever before.
This all happened in the way that progress always happens: through principled discussion and dialogue, through a willingness to listen, through a set of solutions offered in good faith. This is the invitation of diversity and inclusion. This is its promise: if we expand the dialogue, if we listen, if we take what we've heard and make it real, change happens.
As individuals, we have hard work to do. We have to be aware of our own place in the debate, of our position, our privilege, certainly, but also of our power to change by listening and engaging. As advocates for diversity, we must be steadfast, but also compassionate and understanding. We must meet people where they are in their embrace or rejection of diversity and be creative in how we try to influence them. I believe our best tactic here is, again, not a shout, but a kind and sincere invitation.
The greatest of our leaders have taught us this, whether it was Martin Luther King, Jr., engaging the moral conscience of our nation by drawing upon our promise of freedom, or Nelson Mandela, forgiving his jailers and capturing the imagination of the world, or Cesar Chavez, reaching out to the traditional political structure to build an alliance for agriculture workers, or Harvey Milk, building the most powerful gay-straight coalition in U.S. history to change San Francisco city government.
Invitation works. Respecting differences enough to reach across them works. Building coalitions works. Making partners out of the power structure works. Being patient and deliberate works. Understanding others' limits, fears, barriers and blinders works.
Mahatma Ghandhi, perhaps the greatest organizer of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious political coalition in history, put it best when he said, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world." You are helping us to do this. You are the change we are seeing in our little part of the world called CU-Boulder. I want to be your partner in advancing that change.
Now, I know you want things to be different and better, and I know some of you are frustrated in the pace of change. We need more scholarships and financial aid to help us attract more diverse students. We need greater faculty diversity. We need more diversity in the curriculum. We need fewer incidents of bias and prejudice played out in our community. I share all of these goals with you.
But they won't be achieved by my simply decreeing them as policies. I don't have that power, in fact. In each of these challenges there are debates and discussions that need to be had. There are new ideas that need to be brought to the table. There are fences to mend, allies and coalitions to build, and strong cases to be made.
We can't skip over all that work and declare diversity. We can't create it by administrative fiat. We can't force it into people's hearts and values, or into the curriculum, or into policy, and have it be a living, breathing value on our campus. To achieve the latter, we have to plant it, grow it, cultivate it and harvest it. We have to invite each other to it, like you have invited me here today.
My pledge to you is this: I will make diversity a priority in our community and on this campus. I will invite all in the community to be a part of our work on diversity, no matter their perspective or the starting point of their involvement. I will listen to new ideas, and I will ask others to listen to new ideas, no matter where they come from.
I want to achieve more gains in diversifying our student body, faculty and staff. I would, with you as partners, like to set some new, concrete goals for diversity on campus as a part of our declared goals in the Flagship 2030 strategic plan.
In the area of inclusion, I would like to create a more inclusive, compassionate and tolerant campus, but I believe we need new ideas about how to do this that go beyond what we've said and done before.
In closing, I know that over the years, you've heard a lot of speeches from administrators. I sincerely hope that this one is different, but I suppose I wouldn't blame you for not thinking it is. I know that you've heard lip service, but you want action. You want change.
More than two years ago, a young U.S. senator from Chicago was in the same emotional place. By issuing a grand invitation to the American people to embrace change – one that was accepted – today that young man is our president. He is changing the course of history for our nation, and the world.
I want to invite our entire campus community to change the way diversity and inclusion shape our lives at CU. I would like to see these become regular fixtures in all that we do, so that all our meetings and gatherings become, in essence, diversity summits. Your work is showing us how to do that. And thank you for that work, and for inviting me here today.
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