Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, July 16, 2018

In pursuit of a more inclusive university

The American University administration has been challenged to move more aggressively and effectively against racism. Our response has been characterized as deficient and lacking both speed and force. I want to reiterate what I consider to be fundamental values and to outline steps I will take as president in response to these concerns.


As a University community we articulate and strive to work in accordance with a number of core values, including freedom of inquiry and expression, diversity, inclusion, and maintaining an open, honest and safe learning environment that contributes to work of the highest quality. Disciplined attention is required to guarantee each; we are especially challenged when they appear to conflict.

Some in our community are expressing deep disappointment in our response to racist and offensive postings on social media. They point to racism in the deeper University culture that includes persistent racial insensitivity in a range of academic and social interactions and a lack of full participation in the benefits and opportunities offered by our University.

We have responded with repeated condemnation of explicit expressions of racism on YikYak and social media. We have done so while reiterating our commitment to freedom of expression and a belief that once exposed, abhorrent speech is best confronted with responses based both in fact and in our deeply held values.

As to the deeper University culture, we have established multiple venues and settings for dialogue, engagement, listening and learning through teach-ins, training and other programming. These are more completely described in recent campus communications from Provost Bass (Oct. 21) and Vice President Hanson (Oct. 25).

Nevertheless, many in our community remain unconvinced of our serious commitment to create a truly inclusive and welcoming community. They demand that we do more.

This is an important moment for American University. I believe that what we have done and have planned will produce positive results. But, I -- and we -- can do more to ensure that all members of our community experience a welcoming institution where they can thrive.

For my part, I will host a series of discussions over the remaining weeks of the fall semester. I will begin personal meetings with groups of students, faculty, staff and alumni, to discuss ideas and alternatives on matters ranging from the appropriate response to racist utterances to ways to address racism and other barriers to inclusion in our University culture. These and other sessions will likely continue into the break period. I will provide a preliminary report on the results of these discussions before the end of fall semester.

At the start of the spring term, I will provide a report to the University community to summarize what we have learned and outline a plan for action to supplement what is already underway. I believe what is learned and developed through these discussions and deliberations will produce ideas and lead to broader discussions that will benefit all whose experiences at AU are falling short of the inclusive environment we seek to achieve.

Our goal is action and change in the near term in pursuit of a more inclusive University for all members of our community -- but this will require regular, thoughtful attention for the foreseeable future. I urge you to join me in helping to build a better and more fully integrated AU community.

This time next year we will be developing objectives for years 9 and 10 of AU's strategic plan. Our objective is to turn the efforts currently underway and those that will be developed over the next few months into outcomes that define a stronger and more inclusive community going forward.

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Neil Kerwin is the president of American University.


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