Letter to the Spartan Community, Nov. 17, 2016

In recent days I have talked with students, other members of the university community, with a variety of leaders across the state, and with colleagues around the country about reaction to last week’s presidential election. These conversations include stories of often anonymous threatening behavior and hatred.

I am encouraged by the many ways members of our university community have reached out to help others: to teach, to support, and to defend those who feel vulnerable. Thank you for demonstrating that our core value of inclusion is still very much a part of MSU.

I have often said over the years that racism, bigotry, sexism, misogyny—and hatred and violence—are simply wrong. They are contrary to the work of a dynamic and engaged learning community. Yet personal attacks and denigrating rhetoric based on people’s identity and political views have escalated rather than abated over the course of the long campaign and election. Messages of hate and exclusion—verbal or printed—have no place at MSU.

Universities like ours are diverse places, and we embrace and value students, faculty, and staff with a multitude of backgrounds, experiences, and political persuasions. In an academic community, there must be the freedom to explore and test ideas and to engage in research, teaching, and learning in an environment of open inquiry. While debate of sometimes difficult and contentious ideas is essential to our mission, respect and civility should not be replaced by expressions meant as personal attacks.  When this happens, fear, anger, or feelings of vulnerability result, and learning suffers.

While none of us can avoid exposure to all ideas or words that provoke anxiety or cause offense, it is also true that acts and words can simultaneously be deeply offensive and yet protected as a form of free expression.  We can, we must, every one of us, speak out against intolerance and insensitivity when we see it. Together, we can work proactively to build a positive climate where ideas, not insults, are exchanged.

We must do better, each of us. No matter what views we hold that divide us, or what differences we have from one another, we are all Spartans. You belong here. You are respected. You are valued.

Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D.
Nov. 17, 2016

Bias incidents should be reported to the Office of Institutional Equity. Threats to personal safety occurring on campus should be reported to MSU Police (911 for emergencies). MSU also offers counseling services to all students through the MSU Counseling Center, and faculty and staff may access the services of MSU’s Employee Assistance Program. MSU’s work to further diversity and inclusion is ongoing, just as its commitment is ongoing. You can see some of the programs and activities at inclusion.msu.edu.


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