Recent events at the University of Oklahoma and UCLA have highlighted something that, in our hearts, we already knew. We have a long way to go in achieving fair and equal treatment of every person on our college campuses. To the good, there has been near-universal condemnation of the blatant racism at Oklahoma and of the anti-Semitism at UCLA. Further, many students, faculty and staff have emphasized that these hateful and discriminatory actions represent the views of only a very small minority on our campuses.
Yet, these atavistic, insular hatreds persist. They are part of a powerful set of forces that are dividing Americans and our university campuses into ever smaller groups based on our race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation and their intersections. Such divisions reinforce old hatreds and create new ones. For example, cultural appropriation, in which one group mocks the cultural identity of another group, and identity politics, in which groups support political positions based solely on their identity, further divide us.
In this maelstrom of separation, we all lose. We lose Dr. King’s vision that, despite the injustices of the past and present, we can all share a common future – that “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.” We lose the benefit of our rich diversity in which we come to appreciate the value of each other’s unique identities. Perhaps most troubling, we lose the ability to act as one SDSU community – which is essential to all of our successes.
There is a way forward. We must embrace and respect each other’s identities, both individually and as groups, in all of their complexities. We must also recognize that these diverse identities can come together to support one SDSU community – a community that is defined by shared values, shared aspirations and shared experiences. This is the promise of our diversity. Our “One SDSU Community” initiative – part of the implementation of our strategic plan, “Building on Excellence,” – attempts to realize this promise. The initiative is a multi-faceted effort to foster shared experiences, shared values and shared aspirations in our community. Three major programs were initiated or expanded this year. The Aztec Unity Project brings together diverse student organizations to work on community service projects and reflect on their experiences. Integrative diversity workshops, conducted in partnership with the National Conflict Resolution Center, help student leaders develop skills to communicate about and resolve conflicts related to diversity issues. Campus Collegiate Dialogues bring students together to discuss and reflect on the challenges facing our diverse society. Hundreds of students have participated in these experiences this year with plans to expand our efforts in the coming year.
Our campus’ rich diversity and our substantial diversity programming provide us with a special opportunity to create a distinctive new model for higher education – one in which diversity is embraced, common humanity recognized and shared experiences and values build One SDSU Community. This is the path to greatness. For, as we know from 118 years of our university’s history, we can accomplish anything when we work together as one community.