Stand together in unity
Dear Members of the Appalachian Community:
College campuses across the nation, and in North Carolina in particular, were instrumental to the Civil Rights movement 50 years ago. America’s youth, particularly college students, forced our nation to face ugly truths and begin the process of reconciling them. It is fitting that college campuses continue to be a significant and important part of holding our nation accountable for institutionalized racism and acts of violence and injustice.
So far this semester, Appalachian students have held four demonstrations on our campus - the most recent one just this afternoon - to raise awareness about injustices suffered by students, faculty and staff of color on our campus and beyond. While we have work to do at Appalachian, we are so fortunate to be here, at this time - members of a community that I believe is ready, willing and able to change for the better.
I consider myself fortunate to have joined a campus community that is not indifferent. The Appalachian community is passionate about matters of social injustice, and I share this passion. I am committed to being a part of the changes that must take place, on our campus and across our nation.
Discussions about race and equality are not always easy ones for a community to have, but I am confident that this community truly wants to have these discussions in open and honest ways. This is hard work, and I know we as a community are willing to do it.
In one of my first messages to campus, at the annual Walk for Awareness in September, I told our campus community that those who are not willing to live by a code of mutual consent, respect and concern must hear the message they are not welcome in the community of Mountaineers. I challenge all of us today to affirm that we will contribute to a community of respect and concern, and actively reject complicity in hurtful language or actions, whether they take place in anonymous settings online or overt settings in interpersonal situations. I know we will all rise to this challenge.
Not only do we have a dedicated and passionate student body, but we are also very fortunate to have many, many faculty and staff who want to work with and alongside our students to ensure that Appalachian is welcoming to all and hostile to none.
Bindu Jayne, Appalachian’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Compliance, and the Title IX Coordinator for Appalachian, is an important resource for all of us as we do this work. I encourage you to reach out to her with any problems you may have, as well as your thoughts and your ideas about how to move our community forward as we join the important dialogue about race that must take place across our nation, as well as on our campus.
One thing I would like you to know is when I arrived at the Illinois State University campus, where I worked previously, we had underrepresented student numbers akin to Appalachian State University, around 12 percent. The first-year class at Illinois State University this year (the one we admitted before I left) had 25 percent from underrepresented groups. I tell you this so you can understand why I say I feel at home on a campus that lists promoting and valuing diversity in its strategic plan. It is my privilege to be in a position to facilitate the momentum that is here to increase the diversity of students, faculty and staff on our campus. I am confident this will happen at Appalachian, because it is a priority for you, our students, faculty and staff, and because it is a priority that I share.
Some of the groundwork for implementing these changes is already underway. This semester, I charged the Chancellor's Commission on Diversity with the task of proposing specific, actionable plans to recruit - and retain - students, faculty and staff of color to our campus. Recruitment is an important piece, but retention is the key to sustaining a diverse community, and it is where real, significant work must be done to foster a welcoming and compassionate environment.
As we work toward making meaningful and significant changes on our campus, we cannot help but bear in mind the national conversations that are taking place. These conversations inform our community, but they do not have to define it. We must and will take ownership of our own community and define it for ourselves. We must and will hold one another accountable for instances of ignorance and cruelty. And we must and will work together as we navigate this difficult path. Together, we will stand in unity to build and support a just and equitable society, and together, we will reap and share the benefits.
Sheri N. Everts