Dear Campus Community:
On Tuesday morning, during my “coffee and conversation with students” approximately 25 students voiced their concern about posters that have appeared in the neighborhood around St. Cloud State University, a display in Atwood prepared by the SCSU College Republicans, and their perception that their University has offered an insufficient response to these concerns.
Their statements were very powerful.
Let me be clear. I was outraged by the posters in our neighborhood; both by their message and the attempt to use the name of our university to further an agenda of hatred, separatism and nationalism, which run counter to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion that are so central to our mission. But, while I was outraged, I also realized that I and others on campus were reacting exactly as the anonymous person or group who distributed the posters were hoping. Division is their goal. Actions like these have been occurring across the country with the sole purpose of drawing colleges and universities into public conflict to further grow the racial, ethnic and class divide in our country.
I did not want to give the individual or group responsible for the posters the attention they were seeking, and for that reason I made the decision not to communicate my disgust and outrage in a public statement. Let me assure you, however, that student safety is our university’s number one priority. Behind the scenes we have partnered with the city and the St. Cloud police department to coordinate and increase patrols to ensure our campus community and students are safe. However, after listening to our students, I now understand that my lack of public response was perceived as indifference and as a lack of support for those who felt directly threatened by the messages. I regret that this is the perception and that students have felt unsafe.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, our students asked me to remove the College Republicans display. The SCSU College Republicans are a registered student organization who have the right, as all registered student organizations do, to communicate about their organization. While their display contains statements and graphics that run counter to St. Cloud State’s commitment to providing an inclusive and welcoming community, we also must respect their right to free expression.
I ask each member of our community to be respectful of one another even when we have differences of opinion. I ask everyone to be supportive of our students and provide opportunities to engage in conversations that are respectful and thoughtful. And I encourage students to engage one another with the purpose of understanding different perspectives – especially those we find challenging to understand.
At its very best, St. Cloud State University offers a marketplace of ideas and diverse perspectives. We offer an environment in which constructive debate leads to better understanding. Where we welcome difficult conversations with people who hold different philosophical, political and religious beliefs than our own because we believe these conversations will lead to new understandings and creative solutions for a better tomorrow. Our country needs our institutions of higher education to model the path forward and begin to heal the political and social divides. Minnesota and the St. Cloud community needs St. Cloud State University to be a partner in creating a more inclusive and respectful community and to create opportunities for dialogue and healing.
I welcome the opportunity to further engage with our students and our entire campus community in efforts to create occasions for constructive dialogue on the issues facing our community and our country. I believe we need to engage with those we disagree with, not as a way to galvanize and reinforce our differences but to build pathways for a better, stronger and more diverse and welcoming community.
I will be meeting again with our students and the campus community to continue building bridges toward understanding and partnership, and I also will be hosting a series of events yet this semester that provide spaces for constructive and collegial conversations about the challenges that are dividing our campus, community and country.
I hope you will join me in these efforts, and as always I welcome your suggestions.
Ashish K. Vaidya