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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Transforming the UMD Campus

Dear Campus Community,

As you may be aware, I grew up in a segregated neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee, and was in high school in the late 1960s when Memphis became a focal point of the civil rights movement. I remember very clearly the night Dr. King was killed and the shameful way many in the all-white suburbs reacted. This and other racially charged experiences I witnessed shaped my life and the values I firmly hold.

I share this with you again to emphasize my commitment to transform the UMD campus community into one of unquestionable inclusion, full of promise and opportunity for all students, faculty, and staff regardless of the color of one's skin, one's sexual orientation, the country from which one hails, or the ethnicity and culture one inherits.

The guest editorial by a UMD alumna in Sunday's Duluth News Tribune gives compelling testimony to the pain experienced by this vibrant member of our community and by many others. She is one of us. We must acknowledge and honor her experiences. We must realize that what may seem as an isolated incident to some translates to others as a pattern and yet another mark of a lifetime full of prejudice and hate.

I am saddened by what has occurred and how it affects members of our community, and I was sickened when reading Sunday's editorial. At the same time, I am encouraged by our accomplishments to date and by the transformations that are possible by putting into action Goal #2 of our Strategic Plan.

We will not reach our full potential as an educational institution until we value the contributions and understand the differences we all bring to our distinctive learning environment. We will not reach our full potential until we defeat exclusionary and hurtful behaviors and practices. We each must acknowledge that racism and prejudice exists at UMD and in the broader community.

Student voices are powerful. Unwanted aggression, intimidation, isolation, lack of safety, and pressure to conform emerged from the 2010-2011 Campus Climate Study student focus group interviews. The moving testimonials must concern each of us. I urge you to immerse yourself in their personal stories at http://www.d.umn.edu/chancellor/climate/focusgroups.html.

I am committed to social justice. I am committed to working with you to improve the campus climate for everyone. I have seen many positive changes, and change is occurring beyond our campus borders. Duluth community members are working very hard to improve the climate in the city. They are working to end racism and poverty, close the achievement gap in our schools, and improve the relations between the police and communities of color.

This is hard work, critical to the success of our students and our campus community, and we are moving in the right direction. But, gradual change is not enough. We must do more, and it demands self reflection and change as well as collective action. I look forward to your continued commitment to work with me to create a welcoming and inclusive climate for all.


Chancellor Lendley C. Black