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What Kind of Community Do We Want to Be?

October 5, 2010

Recently it was brought to my attention that postings in online anonymous gossip sites have included racist or sexist postings about named University of Rochester students and administrators. The tragedy at Rutgers University that occurred just a few days ago powerfully should remind all of us how potentially hurtful these types of postings can be to the targeted individuals.

In my five years here, these types of statements have been rare. But that does not make them any less abhorrent. I applaud those students who have responded to such hateful speech by rejecting the cruelty and inaccuracy of these statements.

A core value of this University is diversity, which means welcoming and supporting all in our campus.

We will best succeed by creating a conversation among people who are different from each other, precisely because that is how we learn and think best. In the 21st century, our students, faculty and staff increasingly will work with persons from different countries, different religions, and different intellectual frameworks. Those who are most likely to succeed will be those best able to regard the diversity of human experience not as a challenge, but as a catalyst for their most inspired work, most creative innovation, and, in some instances, most important friendships.

I am proud that this University long has had a tradition of mutual respect and tolerance. This tradition is illustrated by our Interfaith Chapel, by the College’s communal principles, and by the University’s Statement of Educational Philosophy.

I am proud of the great diversity in our University that celebrates the participation and accomplishments of faculty, students, and staff of all races, nationalities, religions and sexual orientations, as well as both genders.

We are one University. Of this we all should be proud. Our ability to learn and live with each other is one of our greatest strengths.

Blogs, social networking messages, and gossip sites provide an opportunity for coarsening our experience. They can become vehicles for transmitting cruel messages that single out individuals and groups for disparagement, ridicule and wild accusations. The anonymity of these online forums provides the means to spew venom at others without the honesty of talking to them face to face. This hurts those targeted, hurts their friends and families and ultimately can hurt all of us who are members of this University community.

As for those who anonymously posted to these hurtful websites, I do not want to know who you are. There is no big brother on our campus. But I ask you to engage in a simple thought experiment. Change the text of your posting. If the posting had referred to your race, your gender or you personally, is that the kind of campus to which you would want to belong?