Letter to the Editor

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Dear SMU Community:

In my remarks at the Convocation ceremony on August 25, I discussed the implications of our new branding, World Changers Shaped Here. My goal in those remarks was to underscore how small but intertwined the world had become, as well as the fact that we hope to educate our students to change the world for the better.

The obvious implication is the importance of our graduates being able to work effectively and comfortably with people from different economic backgrounds, cultures, nationalities, races and religions. I noted that those in the first-year class who came from schools that were very homogeneous in any one of these dimensions might be less experienced in developing this recognition and ability than would others who have grown up with more diverse schools and other experiences.

The commitment to value people from all walks of life is crucial not only to one’s future success, but it is also the cornerstone of the community we seek to build at SMU. As a result, we have classes and experiences that will help students to understand and appreciate those from backgrounds divergent from their own.

Therefore, it is both disturbing and disappointing to learn that some person or persons would subject a fellow classmate and a member of the SMU minority community (part of the more than 26% of minority students in the first-year class) to racist comments and actions within the student’s residential hall. This transgression of our Student Code of Conduct was shared with the University community on Saturday, Sept. 7, through a campus-wide e-mail alert.

Such events simply should not happen on this campus and cannot be tolerated. Although the incident is still being investigated, through the SMU Police investigation and appropriate University conduct process, we will pursue diligently the perpetrator(s). An obvious question is whether any individual who exhibits such behavior should be allowed to continue to be a part of the
University community.

Serious violations of basic human values should, however, result in our collective recommitment to our goal of developing a strong sense of mutual respect as the bedrock of the community that we all seek to build and maintain at SMU. Members of the first-year class and the general student body have to be the first on the frontlines of implementing this goal. Any student who might wish to engage in racially motivated or other devaluing actions or comments should learn quickly that fellow students do not share that perspective and do not support such behavior.

If an action is intended to humiliate, demean or devalue another student, those closest to the situation are most able to discourage or even prevent such actions. It is up to all of us to urge any who do not embrace our values of respect for all to broaden their opinions if they wish to remain a part of this University community.

An example of outstanding student leadership in this regard is the values statement recently adopted by the Student Senate: “I, as a citizen of the SMU Community, commit myself to upholding the values of intellectual integrity, academic honesty, personal responsibility, and sincere regard and respect for all SMU students, faculty and staff.”

I call on the entire community, with a special emphasis on those who live in close proximity in our residential halls, to ensure that our community fully reflects a culture of acceptance for all members of our campus. I am proud that this is the predominant characteristic of our campus culture. We need to make
it pervasive.

R. Gerald Turner, President

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