To the Virginia Tech community,
Over the past few weeks, I have been visiting with students, alumni, faculty, and staff to talk about our aspirations for an inclusive community and the challenges presented by acts of racism and bigotry. Many members of our community felt strongly that the administration’s response to the video of students singing along to a popular song and repeatedly uttering the n-word was weak and insufficient. I agree. In retrospect, I should have made an immediate statement as president that, at the very least, explicitly stated my disappointment with what occurred and that such attitudes and expressions have no place in a community that values inclusivity in the way we do at our university.
Of course, this most recent incident is not the sole issue – the larger concern is that despite substantial progress and institutional commitment, many students, faculty, and staff at Virginia Tech still experience an unwelcoming environment that hinders their ability to focus on the experiences at Virginia Tech that will determine the trajectories of their life and career. Although this is a national problem, we at Virginia Tech are obliged to hold ourselves to a higher standard and address the aspects of our environment that we can influence and control.
In my visits to student, alumni, faculty, and staff organizations, we have touched on substantive topics including: the entertainment industry’s use of the n-word; the pros and cons of the use of the n-word among the African-American community; the growing tension between free speech protections at public universities as mandated by the First Amendment and the hate speech uttered by some invited speakers and community members; the role of emerging science (e.g., environmental neurotrauma and epigenetics) in documenting the long-term physical and psychological effects experienced by the victims of identity-based hatred; the challenge that those with minority identities face in shouldering the burden of educating others; and the importance of financial aid and academic support programs in eliminating student success and attainment gaps. I encourage all of these conversations to continue toward the goal of developing community, institutional, and unit-level plans for action through the strategic planning process that is now underway.
Finally, I would personally like to convey my ongoing commitment to advancing Virginia Tech as a model for diversity and inclusion in the spirit of Ut Prosim. We owe this to current and future generations of Hokies who are developing their skills and harnessing their passions to make this world a markedly better place. I would like to invite you to a town hall on “InclusiveVT – How Far We’ve Come, and How Far We Have to Go.” Dr. Menah Pratt-Clarke and I will lead a discussion on the progress we have made over the past three years, the role of the strategic planning process in guiding investments over the next several years, and the opportunities we have in front of us to accelerate sustainable transformation. You may join us on May 3, 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. in 1045 Pamplin Hall. A more detailed agenda and opportunities for remote access will be provided soon.