Dear IUP:

Welcome to spring semester 2016. I hope that your winter break was restful and joyous.

And I hope that you return ready to take up the serious work facing us. As usual, the close of fall semester was filled with the hard work of finals and the excitement of commencement. But the week was dominated by the creation and distribution of a racist photograph, by threats made against the photo's creator, and by our response. Perhaps we'd like to think this was an isolated incident, but that is not true. IUP, and our nation, in spite of their goodness, are infected with the disease of racism, and fall finals week was just the latest symptom.

While I'm saddened by the affliction, I am uplifted by the response of the vast majority of our faculty, staff, students, and community. Members of the faculty and staff stepped forward to make sure that students were safe, supported, and heard. Students reached out to help each other and made sure their feelings and thoughts were heard in respectful and constructive ways.

Friends from outside the university came forward in great numbers to share their perspective and experience, to make suggestions, and to offer their assistance. The Martin Luther King Jr. March and Celebration last Saturday drew a large crowd of people from across the community and of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The Indiana County NAACP chose the theme of “Let's Heal Together,” and speakers reflected on their own struggles with the disease of racism and suggested ways to cure it in ourselves and in our community.

It is now up to us to build on this support and act. In what follows, I outline steps we will take together. We must align our work with the mission of a university—teaching and learning. We must teach people how to share their reasoned opinions—debate and agree or disagree—while always treating each other with respect and dignity. We must help people understand and empathize with the experiences and feelings of those from less-privileged backgrounds. We must hold ourselves and others to high standards, while recognizing that we are all learning and maturing and that we are all subject to the frailties of human nature.

First Action Steps

  1. I have instructed those responsible for new student orientation, new employee orientation, and employee training and professional development to provide enhanced instruction related to diversity, inclusion, and civil dialogue. I have asked that this happen for orientations starting this semester.
  2. This spring, IUP will offer many opportunities to discuss racism and learn about curing the disease. I have instructed members of my cabinet to inventory already-scheduled events and to add new ones. In early April, I will host an all-university symposium, an event in which we can talk and learn together. A full schedule will be published soon, so look for it and the updates that follow. I encourage all of you to take part. And don't forget that February is Black History Month.
  3. Soon, I will appoint an ad hoc group to review and suggest revisions to IUP's student conduct code and other policies to reinforce our need to treat each other with respect and dignity, within the law and recognizing the need to encourage civil dialogue. I will ask the group to complete its work in time for consideration by the University Senate before the end of the academic year.
  4. I will appoint a new President's Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. The commission will provide recommendations for new policies, course work, training, and activities to move us forward. The commission will work with already-existing presidential commissions, and its recommendations will come to me and to Dr. Pablo Mendoza, assistant to the president for Social Equity. Those recommendations also will make their way through my cabinet to those responsible for implementing them.

These steps are important, but they are just the beginning. You will receive additional updates and information throughout the semester and beyond.

I know that some of you want to know how we are addressing the student who created the racist photograph, the students who distributed it, and the students who threatened them. The student conduct process or other applicable university procedures will be used to address the alleged violations. Details of individual cases are confidential and will not be shared. For those who find this answer unsatisfactory, I ask that you instead focus on the work ahead of us. Pursuit of vengeance is not the answer. Working together to eradicate the disease of racism is what matters.

Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.1

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.2

Hold (to) forgiveness and enjoin the good, and turn away from the ignorant.3

There is no more important task than ensuring that IUP is a place where all can feel welcome to learn, work, and live. I am so very grateful to rely on you as we pursue this end together. I am proud to be your president.

Mike Driscoll

1From Martin Luther King Jr.'s Acceptance Speech on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, 1964
2Mark 5:38-39, NIV
3Qur'an 7:199