Editor's note: This open letter was originally published on the University's Campus and Student Life website here.
In the past few weeks, the University has received two separate reports of incidents in our student community that invoked offensive stereotypes of members of particular racial, ethnic and gender groups. As described below, the University has a process for dealing with these individual incidents. However, I am troubled by the impact such incidents have on the wider student community, as they conflict with our values as an intellectual community and harm our ability to fulfill our educational mission.
As President Zimmer notes in his statement on diversity, “The University of Chicago is distinctive in many respects, but perhaps in none more so than our singular commitment to rigorous inquiry that demands multiple and often competing perspectives. The nature of questions being asked and the perspectives being engaged are often a function of the diversity of experiences and outlooks of those participating. Diversity for the University is therefore particularly germane to our core perspective. We must ensure that our scholarly community is composed of a rich mix of individuals who, through their own distinctive viewpoints, contribute to the intellectually challenging culture of the University.”
This core value of rigorous and open inquiry is threatened when individuals make comments, write or display language, or engage in actions that demean or stereotype others because of their race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or other aspects central to their identity. The University has, from its founding, been a place where ideas are valued based upon their merits and not the status of the person holding the idea. Effective inquiry and debate can only occur if members of our community are able to contribute fully and in confidence that their ideas will be heard and evaluated fairly and with respect. We respect freedom of expression and do not attempt to shield every community member from every offensive act. At the same time, we recognize that denigrating someone because of their status or identity sends a message that the person being demeaned cannot contribute fully. Our University community should never be comfortable with such an outcome. This is an important commitment that underlies the University’s policies on diversity, civility and equity.
The University has a well-established system for responding to reports of bias that includes resources such as the Bias Response Team. The Bias Response Team is made up of administrators who work as a bridge, bringing together the parties involved in an incident and finding ways to move forward as a community. In most cases, this involves facilitating dialogue. Depending on the nature of an incident, other processes may also come into play, including the University’s disciplinary systems or, on rare occasions, the legal system. If you see or hear of an incident of bias on campus, or see evidence of such an incident, please contact the Bias Response Team or report the incident to your area Dean of Students, at 834-HELP (4537), the same number you use to access other crisis resources, such as the Dean on Call.
The broad diversity of our community is a great strength, as is our deep and historic commitment to intellectual dialogue among people with different perspectives. Our community thrives when we recognize that our differences are a starting point for greater understanding. We will constantly strive to honor those values as members of a thriving intellectual community, and in our processes for resolving conflict.
Kimberly Goff-Crews is the Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students in the University.