Dear Campus Community,
Amidst much to celebrate, we are never far removed from reminders it is a time of great division in our country. That makes Longwood’s citizen-leadership mission all the more important, and pushes us harder to live up to our ideals as an inclusive community, with humility always to strive to be better.
Colleges around the country have seen dramatically increased reports of vandalism and hateful speech, and Longwood sadly is no exception. As many of you know, last spring saw the appearance of white supremacist flyers on campus, apparently from individuals not affiliated with Longwood, something that has happened in the past as well.
We have continued to see on campus this fall events that have affected members of our campus community. Students and student groups have shared strong reactions of sadness, anger, fear and frustration as acts of intolerance and vandalism have been directed at our underrepresented student populations. More troublingly, I have heard some reports of hateful and abusive language used by Longwood students against their fellow students. This is not civil disagreement. It is vile intolerance, and it goes against everything Longwood stands for.
I confess I have been hesitant to communicate with the campus every time there is such a report. In the case of the flyers, it is the strong view of law enforcement that that there is a nationally concerted effort whose method is to try to provoke a reaction that will draw far more attention to despicable causes. And so I have not been, and will not be, drawn into dignifying the matter every time a coward sneaks onto campus, defaces a poster or leaves repugnant filers, and skulks away.
I am, however, determined that not a single Longwood student could possibly doubt or be unclear where I, and Longwood as a whole, stand on such matters. These incidents run completely contrary to our values. They are not who we are as a community. We welcome and celebrate difference of every variety — but on this we insist: you must be tolerant and respectful of our community members, and no community member should ever feel threatened or unsafe.
While we cannot cure all the cancers in our culture that have brought this about, I am also determined that we take steps to demonstrate we stand behind our values. So I want to tell you what we are doing.
In the case of incidents that may involve violations of our policies or laws, Longwood police are taking these matters very seriously. Safety is their paramount priority. And while they cannot always discuss every aspect of an investigation, they have been providing regular updates to staff and others, including SGA. I am asking them to communicate as openly as their work allows with the student body as their investigations proceed.
Yesterday, I met for two hours with a group of student leaders to talk about this and hear their concerns. There was heartfelt emotion in the room, and I emerged determined that we must work to do better in important aspects of campus life, including communication. We discussed some possible concrete steps and will meet again to continue our conversation.
Students asked me for assurances there would be follow-through regarding some of the ideas we discussed, and I promised there would be. I in turn asked them to be engaged in the many conversations and efforts underway across our campus to make sure we live up to our values as a diverse, inclusive community. Among the most important is the very active University Diversity Council, which is a crucial part of the University Planning Council, the Longwood governance body that addresses our most important campus-wide issues and challenges.
I also asked them, and ask all of you, to report such incidents when they happen, and encourage and support others who are hesitant to do so. The university hosts a website that makes it straightforward for students to report incidents of bias and discrimination and also provides resources for education and support.
Today is a day when we celebrate the opening of the Upchurch University Center, a building dedicated to strengthening our campus, whose ever-increasing diversity makes me very proud. I know that we still have much work to do. But I have been heartened by the outpouring of support from student leaders across campus, from SGA to culturally based organizations to fraternity and sorority groups. This reaction, and the determination of students to advocate and work to make things better, is what truly reflects our university’s values. When Longwood’s highest ideals are attacked, it is the responsibility of each of us to stand up and defend them, and that is what we will do.