Diversity still work in progress

Guest Column

By Transylvania Univ. President R. Owen Williams

Black History Month provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon diversity and inclusion at Transylvania. It seems altogether appropriate to consider these matters given recent and unfortunate incidents on our campus.

At the men’s basketball game with Centre College in December, as most of us know, some of our students taunted one of the Centre players by shouting “token, token.” That taunt, while obviously ironic given the composition of our own team, was completely unacceptable. That sort of behavior will not be tolerated on this campus.

I have written letters of apology to the affected Centre player. I have also written to the entire Centre community, through its college president. Various faculty, coaches and staff have addressed this issue with the Transylvania students involved. But that is not enough. We need a campuswide discussion about it and similar episodes.

Indeed, such incidents occur all too frequently. At our Martin Luther King Jr. Day presentation, the challenges and legitimacy of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations were dismissed and disparaged. That was just the most recent report of intolerance at Transylvania.

While we would like to presume that incidents of this sort do not represent our prevailing norms, we must not abide by intolerance of any kind, at any time.

Transylvanians are proven pioneers in so many wonderful ways. Yet, with regard to matters of diversity, we have been slower to develop.

It seems clear that effective participation in a global society increasingly requires a broader perspective than can be achieved in the relatively homogenous mix of people that exists at Transylvania.

In order to address this shortcoming, we have embarked upon several key initiatives. To begin with, the admissions office is looking to significantly diversify our student body, in every conceivable way. We have added an office of diversity and inclusion, headed by Eduardo Nino-Moreno, which will be further developed over the coming year. Every consideration will be given to diversity when hiring staff and faculty.

We also intend to deepen our relationship with the neighborhoods surrounding campus, especially the partnerships that we are establishing, such as that with the Carnegie Center.

Taken together, these efforts represent the early stages of making Transylvania University a welcoming destination for people from all backgrounds and perspectives.

Transylvania is special for its sense of “belonging,” the sense of community in which all of us know that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It is my devout hope that, together, we will expand the circle of belonging to include everyone who walks our hallowed halls.

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