April 26, 2013

An all-student affair

Recent administrative message regarding diversity and inclusion rightly reaches out to entire student body.

Five years ago, the University’s Office of LGBTQ Student Life was established in order to serve as a resource for LGBTQ students, as well as those interested in learning more about LGBTQ issues. Much of the Office’s work has focused on providing educational and collaborative resources for those students to reduce marginalization and increase awareness and discussion. In light of recent campus conflict over incidents of hate speech, particularly on Facebook, the Office’s anniversary is a salient reminder of the fact that controversies related to the treatment of certain groups are relevant not only to targeted students, but also to the campus at large.

On Monday, April 15, an unknown Facebook user created a page titled “Politically Incorrect UChicago Confessions” (which was later renamed “Politically Incorrect Maroon Confessions”) that encouraged students to submit “racist, sexist, and homophobic thoughts.” Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Karen Warren Coleman posted a statement on the Campus and Student Life Web site on April 19, emphasizing that the University’s dedication to free speech is not antithetical to “a climate in which all members of our community can thrive and feel valued, in which nobody is demeaned or stereotyped for their race, gender identity, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or other aspects of identity.” This past Wednesday, Warren Coleman again reached out to the student body in an e-mail detailing concrete plans aimed at promoting “support for diversity across our community.”

Firstly, Warren Coleman is correct to speak out strongly on an issue that has already adversely affected students’ feelings of well-being and safety and continues to do so. Issues with such an immense impact on campus life are compounded when the administration is silent about them. Second, the announcement of initiatives that are meant to constructively follow what has been a galvanizing experience for students seems promising as a reaction to the divisions and uncertainties created by the Facebook page—even if the the exact nature of the upcoming “opportunities” Warren Coleman listed in her e-mail are unknown.

Most laudable, however, is the fact that the message was addressed to all students, and that the programs outlined therein are geared toward all students. While the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs held a meeting spurred by concerns that the page raised, the Maroon reported that some student attendees felt as though “students least receptive to discussions about diversity would not participate in them in the first place.” Warren Coleman’s e-mail and the forthcoming set of events reflect a crucial awareness on the part of administrators that issues of hate speech are not only relevant to the students targeted by that speech. Such issues necessarily involve every student as members of an accountable community.

In this regard, the anniversary of the Office of LGBTQ Student Life is timely, and provides an apt example of the fact that although certain services are geared toward specific students, they are open and relevant to the experiences of everyone on campus. The Office’s Web site states that though it “serves LGBTQ students, questioning students, and allies” in the University, it also “provides educational, social, and professional opportunities and resources for all students in the university.” These latter services are provided to all students because the diversity of this campus and the risks of marginalization are everyone’s business. In the wake of this controversy, and as the new plans that Warren Coleman listed in her e-mail begin to take shape, all students, without exception, should continue to listen to one another and take time to reevaluate the inclusiveness of our community.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.