Open Letter From President Martin to the Students at Seattle Pacific University
November 25, 2015
Like many of you, I have been following the protests, debates, and discussions at the University of Missouri, Yale University, Princeton University, Ithaca College, and many other colleges and universities. And just this week I have been watching as these concerns have come closer to home with the frightening hate mail at Western Washington University and the racist markings at Calvin College. These reports have left me alternately saddened and encouraged. Saddened because it is evident racial division continues to persist in our country, resulting in many traditionally underrepresented student populations feeling unwelcome and unsafe on college campuses. Encouraged, however, because these concerns are being clearly brought to light in ways that compel our collective attention.
I am also well aware that these concerns do not just exist “out there.” Although I am proud of Seattle Pacific University’s long-standing commitment to reconciliation in general, and to racial and ethnic reconciliation in particular, I know there is more we can do. I’m hopeful that together we can listen, dialogue, and take action in order to continue to make significant progress in this vitally important area on our campus during this coming year.
This has been a painful season where even events occurring at a great distance have connected with expressions of hostility and aggression that some in our community have experienced personally and that, as a consequence, many have felt more on edge and less safe. I’m hoping that you have had an opportunity to talk with others about what you are experiencing and to bring forward your ideas to ensure we achieve our goal of being a hospitable and grace-filled community where all feel safe. I know that many have already found opportunities to share concerns and suggestions with the staff of Multi-Ethnic Programs, University Ministries, and the John Perkins Center. Others found our faculty to be a welcoming and a listening presence.
But I want to hear from you, as well. To that end, I would like to schedule a couple of meetings. First, as soon as we can arrange it, I will sit down with the leadership of ASSP to hear their perceptions and suggestions as they represent the student body as a whole. But I also want to enlarge the discussion beyond this group, so I am scheduling a couple of forums. Given that Autumn Quarter is nearly over, I have scheduled the first of these for Thursday, January 14, 2016, at 3 p.m. in Upper Gwinn Commons, and you are all invited to attend. I will be there, and I will ask several other members of our Senior Leadership Team to join me. We are eager to hear how you think we might further our efforts to create a bias-free, inclusive community, and how we can continue to press into the work of reconciliation on our campus. The purpose of these forums will be to give you an opportunity to share your thoughts. We will be there to listen.
I am committed to help nurture a campus environment where everyone is safe, where diversity is appreciated, and where deep divisions are reconciled. In the midst of a divisive and angry world, it is my hope SPU is known not just for its robust conversations on the most important topics of the day, but also as a place notable for its civility toward, respect of, and love for one another. I’m looking forward to working with you to this end.
Focusing on issues of diversity and reconciliation is nothing new for our University. If you are interested in learning more about how SPU has been engaging these issues in its recent past, let me commend the excellent summary found in a report by Salter McNeil & Associates LLC Seattle Pacific University Ethnic Diversity Assessment Final Report, November 2014. This report documents the work of SPU in matters of race, ethnicity, and diversity in the years before I arrived in 2012.
And since my arrival in the summer of 2012 we have continued our efforts to place the work of reconciliation at the center of the life of our community. While this list is not exhaustive, here is a summary of recent years:
The adoption of the Cultural Understanding and Engagement curricular requirement bears special mention. This significant addition to our undergraduate curriculum is the direct result of student action. Several years ago, approximately 500 students signed a petition to support the addition of such a curricular requirement. This request was met with broad support from both the faculty and the administration and, after winding its way through our faculty governance processes, this requirement will “go live” this coming year.
But now what?
Some of the initiatives noted above are in process, and we will continue to work on these. For example, we will be implementing a number of the recommendations that we have received from the task force in order to more effectively recruit and retain staff of color. We will be completing our faculty opportunity hire. We will be developing multicultural training for faculty and staff. We will be implementing the Cultural Understanding and Engagement curricular requirement. We are planning on meeting with the Faculty Diversity Committee to explore the adoption of various protocols to facilitate the hiring of more faculty and staff of color. We are eagerly waiting to receive the recommendations of the Reconciliation Task Force (expected later this year), and we will gather as a community in Chapel to consider the issues of reconciliation as we worship together.
I anticipate that we may find other areas needing our attention as we gather to talk together, so I am looking forward to our upcoming discussions.
In all that we do, let us commit to a level of listening, dialogue, and action that shows SPU to be a grace-filled community. May the grace that God gives us be the grace that we extend to one another every day.
God bless each of you as you travel for Thanksgiving,
President Daniel J. Martin