THIS WEEK marked several major events, both for Lewis & Clark and for the country at large. On Nov. 8, Donald Trump was elected after one of the most politically divisive election cycles to date. In the days that followed, LC hosted the Ray Warren Symposium on Race and Ethnic Studies, a three-day event discussing race, ethnicity and their intersections with politics and society. In years past, the symposium has at times been followed by alleged incidents of racially based attacks. Given the climate of frank discussion, raw emotions and contentious issues surrounding this week, the Bias Assessment Response Team (BART) sent out an email on Nov. 1 asking campus groups to sign a letter they were drafting emphasizing solidarity on LC’s campuses. The email read:
“The Bias Assessment Response Team (BART) came up with the idea of having a proactive letter of support go out to the L&C community prior to the Ray Warren Symposium and the Race Monologues—a time when incidents have happened in the past on campus. The President and the members of the Executive Council will sign the letter, but we thought that it would be even more powerful if the leaders from the various student organizations on campus (CAS, Law and GSEC) also signed on to the letter.”
The content of the letter draft, however, referred to general current events more than the symposium in particular. The body of the letter read, in part:
“Our country has faced challenges that have highlighted divisions along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation and identity. And the truth is that our country and the Lewis & Clark community will face more challenges, more rumblings along these societal fault lines, in the weeks, months and years ahead. Because even a place whose mission is creating globally engaged thinkers and doers is not immune from prejudice and otherness.
At the same time, we are heartened by the incredible work being done in all corners of the campus to build bridges…
We, the undersigned, want to assure all members in our community in the strongest possible terms that we reject attacks against, discrimination against, and targeting of individuals and groups based on their identity…”
The letter was sent out a week ahead of the symposium so that if students or groups took issue with some of the language, they could work with them to strengthen the letter. Similar letters have been circulated by LC before, such as a letter of support and alliance with LGBTQIA community after the Pulse shooting in Orlando earlier this year. Roy Kaufmann, Director of Public Relations, was the main author of the letter, and the final draft of the letter was released Monday Nov 7 and is available to view on the LC website.
Janet Steverson, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, spoke to the reasoning behind the letter.
“[The symposium] is part of it, but it’s not the whole thing,” Steverson said. “It’s the election, the stuff that has happened, and recognizing that it’s all culminating this week. It’s a letter of community support. We’re not saying that we weren’t thinking about the past couple of years, but it’s proactive. We all support each other. We were at a BART meeting, and came up with the idea of the letter. And then Roy [Kaufmann] wrote it.”
Dean of Students Anna Gonzalez said that the letter was a sort of declaration of goals and expectations for the community at large.
“I think [that in] the country, the state, city, school, there’s a lot of stuff happening,” Gonzalez said. “Is our community going to be determined by building walls and saying hurtful things? Also, as a person of color, the Ray Warren Symposium for me is like home. That’s when I know I can go there and see people like me who share my experience and so it hurts when people start bracing themselves like it’s going to be a bad week. [The letter] is not reactionary, more like we’re putting it out to the universe what we expect our community to be.”
Gonzalez, who described herself “the Pollyanna” of LC, stressed the need for all students to be engaged with promoting equality, safety, and inclusivity on campus, not just students who are expected or even stereotyped as being involved.
“I know our students are good and our students care,” Gonzalez said.
Steverson agreed, adding that there were around 60 responses to the email and letter, thanking CDI and BART for sending it out.
“We want to change [the conversation about the symposium] from a worry to that we’re all coming together and supporting each other,” Steverson said. “But if something does happen, we’ve already said we’re a community and that’s not us. That [any attack or negative response] is an isolated incident, so I don’t want to think of it as preemptive. It’s proactive… We are an active community. Sometimes bad things happen. But that’s one individual as opposed to the whole rest of the community. We value everybody here… It was nice to see that everybody from all ends of the spectrum were in.
The timing of the letter draft being sent out in November was because of the hard conversations that the community, and the country, will be having this week.”
“We’re having conversations here that are substantive and about these issues,” Kaufmann said. “But the conversations are happening. People continue talking late in the evening, in dorm rooms. It’s important to recognize that at a time when a lot of people are retreating to their corners, we’re saying no, let’s talk about this. It’s a stressful time to be alive, but it’s an amazing time to be alive.”
If there are any vocal negative reactions to the symposium or any subsequent attacks on students, Kaufmann, Gonzalez and Steverson said they were hopeful that the letter would cushion some of the blow.
“I think it would take away some of the uncertainty,” Steverson said. “Sometimes the feeling is ‘I’m alone and I don’t know who to trust. Was it you? Or you?’ Having the whole community say ‘It’s not us’ is helpful.”
“The community has signed on, so I hope that whoever [if anyone] is targeted, will feel they are supported by the community,” Gonzalez said. “No one can take away the hurt, even the letter, but at the same time the community will come together and confirm that this is not what we stand for.”
The Ray Warren Symposium and Race Monologues co-chairs declined to comment.
The Black Student Union (BSU) and IME did not respond to Pioneer Log requests for comments. BSU signed on to the letter. IME did not.