Message from the chancellor: This is what will make us stronger

Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton sent the message below to Danforth Campus students on the evening of March 5, inviting the entire community to join in reaffirming the values of the university.

Dear students,

Like many of you, I have been deeply affected by an incident that took place last week. There has been much follow-up discussion of issues related to race, gender and inclusiveness that are of importance to all in our community. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of my own thoughts and invite you to join me in an effort to reaffirm our values as a university.

Regarding the specific incident that has stimulated much thinking and discussion, we immediately launched an investigation of what took place, and that process is under way. We have the resolve to move rapidly and yet responsibly. This process will provide a thorough and fair understanding of what occurred.

Setting aside the specifics of any one event, however, what I’d like to address is the broader issue of the emotional chord this has struck among all of us who are devoted to Washington University and its community. Conversations are occurring around coffee tables, in classrooms and dorm rooms, on social media channels and in other corners of campus that have unearthed genuine feelings of disappointment and dismay regarding issues surrounding inclusiveness and diversity. It is important that we strive to learn from the discussions, do better going forward, and become stronger as a result.

None of us is sheltered from the deep-seated societal issue of discrimination — in the many shameful forms it takes. At the same time, however, none of us is exempt from the responsibility to participate in the creation of a culture that embraces diversity, inclusion and mutual respect. I am often asked what it is that makes Washington University so special. In response, I say that we are a community where we respect and support one another — a university where we work together to contribute to making the world a better place.

Every August, I have the honor of addressing our new students as a part of our annual Academic Convocation. Those in attendance have heard from me that there is no room here for racism, discrimination or harassment. Respect for one another is one of our most important community values. Washington University has become one of the world’s great universities in large measure because our community includes diverse, talented students who embrace an inclusive culture.

However, being an inclusive community is an aspiration that extends well beyond our student body. Four years ago, as a part of a planning process called the Plan For Excellence, the University Trustees stated that strengthening diversity, becoming more inclusive, and improving gender balance is a top priority for the next decade, a priority that has evolved into the university’s Diversity Initiative. We aspire to engage people of great ability from all backgrounds, to cultivate a culture where everyone is valued and respected, and to inspire faculty and students to be bold, independent and creative thinkers.

I applaud the efforts already initiated by our students to build on the dialogue that has started all across campus since last week, and I encourage more of it. We must create channels for constructive, open and honest communication so that we can learn from each other. This is what will make us stronger. And the administration will be a supportive partner.

I have asked Sharon Stahl, vice chancellor for students, Adrienne Davis, vice provost, and Julian Nicks, president of Student Union, to work with the community to find opportunities to engage, collaborate and improve as an institution. They will begin their work immediately, and they will keep the community informed of their progress.

As we look ahead, it is my hope that we continue to find opportunities to celebrate our differences and learn from them – as our diversity is an important source of strength – while coming together more closely as a community. One community.

With best regards,

Mark S. Wrighton