As each of us became aware of the racist Snapchat photo that an IUP student issued over Labor Day Weekend, we rightfully felt pain, anger, regret, and sadness. Many thought our community had grown beyond this sort of thing. If only that were so. We at IUP do not condone such expression. It does not represent who we are. Yet, we live in an imperfect world. Our work to educate and inform each other as we strive to become the diverse and inclusive community that we envision will never end.
But, in the midst of this ugly event, something wonderful happened. Starting on Monday afternoon, students of color—strong women and men, some the descendants of slaves—rose above their pain to lead us forward in the IUP Way. They reaffirmed that this ugly incident does not define who they are or who we, as a university community, are. They challenged us all by asking what our community can do to become the university we envision and mirror the society we want to see.
On Wednesday, September 6, these students, assisted by university staff members, held an open Resolution Seminar. Several hundred people attended, including student leaders from all racial backgrounds and most members of the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. The dialog throughout the seminar was passionate as well as constructive and respectful, in accordance with the ground rules the student leaders set by sharing IUP’s Civility Statement.
While some called for the student who posted the Snapchat to face consequences, many acknowledged that the First Amendment of the US Constitution protects free speech and that the cure for negative, hateful speech is to supersede it with positive, inclusive speech.
The results of the seminar are still being processed, but those in attendance made several points clear. They desire a continuing discussion on the topic of racism, involvement by more white members of the community in eradicating racism at IUP, and mandatory training and education on diversity and inclusion for students and faculty and staff.
If there were a simple solution to eliminate discrimination and racism, I would implement it today. The only way we can make real progress on eliminating them is by working together as true partners. First, if you are worried or frustrated as a result of recent events, know that the Center for Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement colleagues are ready to help. Second, I urge you to get involved. You will see over the course of the semester a number of opportunities for further discussion and engagement. I also urge you to review and sign a petition started by a group of concerned faculty members.
I am proud of the students who are leading us forward, and I call on each of you to work with them. It’s the IUP Way.
Michael A. DriscollPresident