Dear campus community,
At Wayne State, diversity and inclusion are more than words — they are a commitment. This is a proud part of our history that is still evident across our campus. But diversity and inclusion aren’t automatic; they need our constant attention and commitment, especially in sensitive times like we are experiencing today. That is why diversity and inclusion are important parts of our five-year strategic plan, as both an area of focus and a cultural value.
For me, diversity and inclusion are deeply held convictions. Throughout my life and career, I have had many opportunities to experience diversity and inclusion at their best and worst. These experiences, along with my personal beliefs and convictions, are part of the reason I decided to accept the presidency of Wayne State University.
Since becoming president, I have made it a priority to engage with people on our campus — students, faculty, staff and administration — to better understand the full range of views of our community. A common theme I enjoy hearing is how much people appreciate the diversity of our campus. Many feel that this makes Wayne State a special place and gives our students a competitive advantage in their preparation for the real world. Most importantly, they feel it makes us better people.
While most of the input on this subject is positive, I occasionally hear concerns.
Recently, I met with a group of students who belong to the Student Republicans. These students were respectful and articulate during our discussion, and they feel strongly that their political views are not welcome at Wayne State, either on the campus or in the classrooms. In many of the examples they shared, their views were met with denunciation and insult rather than a respectful exchange of different viewpoints. Uncomfortable political discussions in the classrooms were often unrelated to the class, and when political topics were relevant, students often felt shunned by their classmates and their professors just because they held different views. Some even worried their views might jeopardize their grades, and chose to be silent.
While we all value diversity and inclusion, many of us define these terms differently. I mentioned earlier that living the values of diversity and inclusion takes commitment and vigilance, and this means honestly examining our own thoughts and actions. After listening to these students, I think it’s important for all of us to keep in mind that diversity includes the full range of people, thoughts and ideas — even political ideas with which some of us may disagree.
Universities, at their best, should be ideal settings for respectful dialogue and debate between different points of view. We must strive for this ideal on our campus and allow for the peaceful and public expression of differing views. Over the past few months, we have heard from many members of our campus community who were concerned about political situations in the world today. We support and protect this right vigorously. In the classroom, students should be free to express a wide range of views on topics relevant to the coursework, and be prepared to have their views tested and challenged — that is a critical part of the learning process. No one should feel his or her views are too risky to share.
I hope we continue to strive for diversity and inclusion in the fullest sense. This is how we grow as people, and this is how we fulfill our mission to prepare a diverse student body to thrive in the real world.
M. Roy Wilson