Celebrating student success, activism

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

President Earl H. Potter III will be traveling around Minnesota this summer to visit SCSU alumni and friends.

President Earl H. Potter III will be traveling around Minnesota this summer to visit SCSU alumni and friends.

The most vivid memories from my first year as president of St. Cloud State will undoubtedly include the celebrations of student success that occur every spring on our campus.

In April and May our calendar is filled with events that showcase student talent, reward student initiative and honor student achievement.
It’s been a pleasure to discover the traditions my new university home has developed over the years to make these celebrations truly special for the students they recognize. And it’s been a joy to witness the pride and excitement they engender in the students whose initiative and hard work are publicly rewarded with scholarships, awards, certificates, or appreciative applause.

One of the most stunning of these memories is of the magnificent first local presentation of the Holocaust Oratorio, “To Be Certain of the Dawn.” This ambitious production of our student singers and musicians with their counterparts from Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict was a truly momentous concert.

Another outstanding memory is our Multicultural Student Services awards banquet, during which 74 individual awards were given out for student leadership and achievement. The mood was electric as enthusiastic students celebrated with pride in their academic and activist accomplishments.

Many of these students demonstrated concern this year for the well-being of their colleagues and their university as they got involved with issues surrounding swastika drawings and related incidents on campus. Many responded with positive action, organizing speak-outs and panel discussions and advising faculty
and administrators how students were being affected by these bias-motivated incidents.

A number of our students have expressed feelings of fear and intimidation as a result of insensitive words and actions of others on campus and in the community. It’s not uncommon for students of color to encounter racist remarks or gestures as they pass others.

These incidents also point out the gap that exists between the targets of these degrading assaults and those who fail to understand their impact. Even though we’re all members of one community, we differ on how the campus should characterize these acts that threaten some among us more than others. For one, I do not think that we can ignore their significance.

During the last several months there has been considerable discussion of these issues, as well as about the university’s response to these troubling incidents. I believe that by listening to the voices of concerned students and openly discussing our options, we have chosen the right path between the rocks of too little and too much attention to the motives behind and the consequences of these actions.

Because our foremost concern is for our students and our responsibility to prepare them for the future, we will continue talking about these sensitive issues. We will not dismiss them by accepting the position of those who say, “Since I am not offended by these symbols, nobody should be offended.” When students question their personal security, their ability to focus and learn is hampered. Their insecurity strikes at the heart of what we are about as a place for teaching and learning.

We don’t claim to have all the answers at St. Cloud State University. We will keep questioning and examining possible solutions. It is not an easy path to take but, I believe, it is the right one.

As we celebrate the accomplishments of our students and the strength of community at the end of this successful academic year, we are reminded that
St. Cloud State University must be a place where people from all races, religions and traditions can be assured they are welcome to experience all the richness of our learning community.

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