C0-COLUMNISTS

Karen Lange
Dean of Students
Dr. Lawrence Potter
Executive Director of Institutional Diversity

Thank you for helping to plan and participating in Black History Month

St. Thomas recently concluded an ambitious and impressive series of events to celebrate Black History Month, and we want to thank students, faculty, staff and alumni for helping to plan the events and for participating in them.

As the number and percentage of students of color grow at St. Thomas, it is important that we recognize the racial and ethnic diversity of the campus by sponsoring events that celebrate their rich heritage. Black History Month is one such occasion, and we will continue to look for ways to increase awareness of all culturally diverse communities represented at St. Thomas and beyond.

At the same time, we must remain alert to acts of discrimination against people of all backgrounds. We cannot and will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of one’s race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or religion.

Beginning with January Term and continuing throughout Black History Month and this spring semester, here is a sampling of 2007 events:

  • Sen. Barack Obama’s best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, was selected as a January Term book club selection. Thirty students, faculty and staff participated in the four-week program.
  • The All College Council, Multicultural Student Services, Globally Minded Student Association, St. Thomas Activities and Recreation, and the Office for International Student Services sponsored a visit to the “Race: Are We So Different?” exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Ninety-nine students attended the exhibit and returned to campus for live music, conversations about their experiences and a dance.
  • Campus Ministry and Multicultural Student Services sponsored a Spring Community Dialogue event, “In God’s Image: Reflections on Race and Privilege.” More than 155 students, faculty and staff heard Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees, talk about his “Pastoral Letter on Racism.” The 25 volunteer facilitators for the evening’s small-circle discussion went through training, which included a visit to the Science Museum exhibit. One survey respondent said of the event: “It challenged me to come out of my comfort zone and discuss important issues.”
  • Nearly 280 people viewed the movie, “Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible,” on two occasions in February. The screenings, sponsored by Multicultural Student Services and the Center for Faculty Development, included a panel of white faculty members who shared their stories of white privilege and a discussion with Dr. Shakti Butler, the film’s producer. “This was a great opportunity to gain a greater consciousness of my life, the lives of others (mainly in terms of race) and a tremendous chance to reflect on all of it,” wrote one survey respondent after the event.
  • The Wellness Center and Multicultural Student Services sponsored “Mind, Body and Soul,” a three-part health and wellness series designed to encourage students to nurture their spiritual, physical and mental health in order to maximize success in college.
  • Several offices, including the Commuter Center, Office of International Student Services and the Heritage Week Planning Committee, combined efforts to offer a community service day on March 9 during the university’s annual Heritage Week.
  • Father Dennis Dease, president, continues to hold breakfast and lunch discussions in his home with student leaders. He held seven such discussions during fall semester with 60 students who talked openly about what they like — and don’t like — about St. Thomas.
  • Next week, more than 30 students will take a bus to New Orleans to participate in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, partnering with students from Xavier University, a historically black, Catholic institution. Our students will stay at Xavier and will work on service projects in the community, including education, literacy, Habitat for Humanity and the Second Harvest food bank.

These activities and many others follow fall semester activities such as “Diversity Dialogues,” in which 950 resident students participated in 60 programs on issues such as race, personal identity, socioeconomic status and marginalization. Our Luann Dummer Center for Women held discussions on gender issues and supported outreach activities sponsored by Allies, a group that supports those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And our Center for Faculty Development and Office of Institutional Diversity co-sponsored a workshop on “Strategies for Teaching in the Intercultural Classroom.”

As inspiring as these activities are, troubling incidents still occur, including graffiti vandalism in campus restrooms and the defacing of a Black History Month poster in McNeely Hall with a racial slur. We are appalled by these incidents, and implore the perpetrators to treat others with respect and dignity as human beings.

We best like what Father Dease said in an Aquin commentary last fall and in his “Up Front” column in the winter issue of St. Thomas magazine. He wrote how Archbishop John Ireland, our founder, abhorred racial prejudice and vowed “to kill it out.” He launched an aggressive civil rights campaign, insisting that “we are all brothers in Christ, and brothers do not look at color or race.”

Ireland spoke those words in 1892! One hundred and fifteen years later, we still find ourselves vowing “to kill out” racial prejudice. We are making progress, slowly but surely, on this campus, in this community and in our greater society, and we are encouraged by the thoughtful and courageous efforts of our students, faculty and staff.

In light of our historical mission and of all the exciting learning and programs, we realize that more needs to be done to strengthen the university’s modus operandi to effectively respond to and alert the campus community when malicious acts take place. In the coming weeks, the Office of Institutional Diversity and the Dean of Students Office will work in partnership with others on campus to develop a protocol for reporting hate crimes and bias-motivated incidents.

Please join us in creating a more just and inclusive community.