As I reflect back on my first semester at UTSA, there were many extraordinary moments – too many to count. I am grateful to each of you for your support as we considered a new strategic vision for UTSA as San Antonio’s university of the future.
We also encountered some challenging moments last fall, the most difficult of which was an unauthorized banner hung on the Paseo walkway by Patriot Front, a white supremacist group. The targeting of our campus—which mirrored incidents at many other colleges and universities here in Texas and throughout the nation—generated many emotions as we all grappled to decipher the best course of action after such a visible display of hate.
Over the last several weeks, it became apparent to me that we need a path forward to talk with one another about the sensitive—and often difficult—issues sounding inclusion, diversity and freedom of expression. This notion was brought home for me by what I saw and felt during the MLK Jr. March last week. This was obviously my first time marching here in San Antonio, and I sensed great unity and hope from the tens of thousands of participants.
In our media dominant, politically volatile environment, I am convinced that tools for interpersonal dialogue are needed now more than ever – it’s a vital part of the educational experience as we prepare our students to be world-ready.
As such, I am happy to share news regarding some efforts at UTSA that will help us to frame our campus conversations.
The first is a new President’s Initiative on Diversity and Inclusion. This initiative will lead campus explorations on a variety of broad topics that contribute to the vision of UTSA as a multicultural discovery enterprise. Utilizing expertise from both inside and outside our campus, this task force will take a scholarly approach to creating opportunities for our students, faculty and staff to hear from thought leaders and engage in dialogue on issues ranging from free speech to creating inclusive environments. Given our role as a Hispanic Serving Institution in one of the most diverse cities in the country, I believe UTSA should serve as a national model in terms of how we create opportunities for our community to enhance their understanding of these complex issues.
The second is UTSA’s new Campus Climate Conversations (since renamed the Student Action Coalition). This student-centric effort will involve designing and running forums, retreats and trainings to engage our community in dialogue around topics such as inclusiveness, civic discourse, equity and tolerance. The programming agenda will be heavily driven by the Student Government Association, with facilitation support by Dean of Students Kevin Price and the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. With broad student, faculty and staff representation, this effort will include creating sounding board mechanisms for students to raise issues regarding UTSA’s current campus climate for underrepresented groups.
We are actively working to identify leaders and contributors for both the President’s Initiative on Diversity and Inclusion and the Campus Climate Conversations. You can expect to see programming announcements from both roll out very soon.
The existing Provost’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council will complement the work of these two groups. I am grateful to the Provost’s Council for administering the faculty/staff survey last semester, and for the work they will do to identify a similar survey tool for students to be administered this spring. We have much to learn from the results of these surveys, which will be analyzed and shared in the months to come. The Provost’s Council is also drafting a new institutional statement affirming UTSA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion to display alongside our institutional mission, vision and core values. This draft will be shared broadly for campus input.
I hope you will consider participating in the programming and dialogues that all these groups organize. They may not always be comfortable or easy, but they will be incredible growth opportunities for us all. The more we can do to challenge ourselves to talk openly and respectfully about our differing viewpoints, the more we serve as models for our city, state, nation and world. I can’t think of a better role for an institution of higher learning that produces graduates ready to tackle our society’s grandest challenges.
Over the course of this semester I’ll be writing more about free speech and other issues of our day. I encourage you to watch my blog and social media accounts for these posts, and to respond online or to firstname.lastname@example.org with any thoughts you might have. As always, I value the insights and wisdom of this community.