Together -- We're All in this together - St. Cloud State University

Together - St. Cloud State University

President's Messages


April 2, 2009

To the Campus Community:

Some of you will have seen an article published today in the St. Cloud Times that describes the response of our faculty and students to a racist act that occurred earlier this week.  I am pleased that the Times focused on the strong and positive response of our community rather than on the hateful act alone.  The article is accurate.

For those of you who have not seen the article, this is a brief summary.  A particularly offensive racist message was scrawled this past Monday on a poster produced by students in Professor Yolanda Lehman’s Race in America class.  That poster, which hung on a bulletin board in a Stewart Hall stairwell between second and third floors, was defaced with obscene words targeting all African-Americans.  Unwilling to let this hateful act pass without a meaningful rebuttal, Rev. Lehman’s students turned it into a teachable moment – a way to, in her words, “transform the way some folks think about race in America.”

When the racist graffiti first was discovered on the poster honoring the work of Dorothy Height, chair and president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women, it was taken down.  Rev. Lehman made the decision to place a facsimile of the 16’ x 20’ poster in the stairwell and placed a box full of paper, pens and tape under the bulletin board, inviting the St. Cloud State community to flood the wall with their reactions.  She added the words, “This is what ONE person says.  What do the MANY say in response?”

It is difficult to control the behavior of every individual in a community of nearly 20,000, but we can stand together against hate.  Over time it will become known that St. Cloud State is a learning community that does not tolerate hateful acts.  I am grateful to the student leaders, to Professor Yolanda Lehman and to her students who spoke out and invited other members of our community to join them.  You have set an example for all of us.

It is my hope that someday we will have created a community that is safe enough to openly engage each other in order to examine the world view and motives that drive hateful expressions.  A learning community moves forward only when we can think together about the most difficult questions that we encounter.  When we can do this, some will not feel the need to commit these acts of hate.  Thank you to the many campus leaders who share this dream and are working actively towards its realization.

Earl H. Potter III
President

 

Sept. 3, 2008 -- Top of page

Students:

It has been my privilege to speak with many of you during the last couple of weeks.   To those who are new to the campus I offered welcome and to those who are returning I said that we are glad to have you back.  St. Cloud State University is a learning community of nearly 20,000 students, faculty and staff that comes together to share knowledge and grow understanding so that our graduates may be prepared for their futures.  This University makes a tremendous contribution to the well-being of Minnesota and sends leaders out across the world to make a difference in many other communities.

While this is all true, we are also an imperfect community that is striving towards equity, justice and opportunity for all.  From time to time there are strong signals that all is not well and that we have much work to do to realize our dream for this community.  One of these signals occurred over the last weekend when three “K’s” were discovered taped to an elevator wall in Shoemaker Hall.  The letters had been taken from bulletin boards in Shoemaker and arranged to create the recognizable and hateful KKK symbol. 

I don’t know the motive of the person or persons who did this.  The act was certainly intentional and whether the person(s) knew or not, it was hurtful.  Such an act violates the spirit of openness and acceptance that we seek to create on this campus.  We have asked people who may have any information about this incident to share this information with us so that we can take appropriate action.  While knowing that we will never totally remove misunderstanding, ignorance and bigotry from our society, I believe that we can create safe places where people can explore their differences and come to understand one another, places that support learning and growth.

I ask that you join me in refusing to accept this kind of behavior, whatever the motive.  Speak up, speak out, or speak back but do not be indifferent.   We will come together to talk and think and learn in the many, many venues that we offer for conversation from the Respect and Responsibility workshops that are required of new students, to the Racial Issues courses that students take as part of our general education curriculum, to the many leadership councils and informal discussion groups across the campus.  Please participate in these conversations.  Be active, challenge, listen and learn.  Share your questions with faculty members in any of your classes.  Your education will benefit and our university will grow stronger.

Sincerely,

Earl H. Potter III
President

 

March 19, 2008 -- Top of page

Students:

I am writing to invite you to join me from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, in the Atwood Theatre for a dialogue about hate crimes and other bias-motivated activity on our campus. If you have questions and concerns, I encourage you to bring them to this open forum. I look forward to providing updated information about where we are on these issues and to talk about how much information can legally be shared. I do understand that it can be frustrating to know that I can’t share the very information that might ease some of the apprehension many students are feeling.

What I can do is reaffirm our resolve as a university to deal with hurtful and hateful behavior. Such behaviors have been and will continue to be dealt with under the Student Code of Conduct. Our response as a university is to take action through a range of sanctions, from probation to suspension.

I continue to listen to those who are targeted in these hate crimes and hateful incidents. I believe we continue to have the strength in this community to deal with these occurrences. The fear, the intimidation, and the questions about personal security hurt students’ ability to focus and learn, and that strikes at the purpose of what we are about as a place for teaching and learning.

I’m confident the steps we have taken have increased security.

I encourage you to attend the open forum on March 26 and to bring your concerns. I look forward to seeing you there.

Earl H. Potter III
President

 

Jan. 31, 2008 -- Top of page

To the Campus Community:

I am writing to inform you that the St. Cloud Police Department has reported to the university and to media that they have identified an individual who has admitted to drawing a swastika in Stearns Hall. Their report involves the incident that police received information about early the morning of Monday, Jan. 28, and was included in the latest safety alert.

Police have not released the name of the individual and will not do so until the City Attorney’s Office has completed its review and determines whether or not to proceed with any charges. We have and will continue to fully support the St. Cloud Police Department’s investigation. At the same time we will move forward within the limits of the law, complying with the Minnesota Data Privacy laws which apply serious restrictions on what information we can share about this matter.

Student Life and Development will apply due process in this matter under the Student Code of Conduct and will take action based on the Public Safety investigation that was prompted by information from Residential Life.

We are pleased that so many in our campus community have responded to our request for information, and we are gratified that the police have made progress in the investigations they have been conducting since the first bias-motivated acts and hate crimes were reported in mid-November. While it is important that we continue to make progress toward resolution of these incidents, we also are being mindful of ensuring to the best of our ability the safety of all our students.

This information represents ongoing efforts to get to the bottom of incidents that have caused anxiety and fear on our campus for two and a half months. It is our hope that we can all learn from the collaboration and courage that so many on our campus have demonstrated in these difficult times and begin to move toward a healing process.

Earl H. Potter III
President

 

Dec. 24, 2007 -- Top of page

To the Campus Community:

It is troubling and unfortunate that many in our campus community – especially students – ended fall semester with a feeling of unease about issues surrounding the hate crimes that have occurred since mid-November.  I want to assure you that both St. Cloud State’s Public Safety and the local police are carrying out thorough investigations of all 17 reported incidents.  I also am writing to inform you of some steps that have been taken to continue working together to deal with these issues.  I continue to be heartened by the spirit of unity that has surrounded these attacks on our community.

I am pleased to announce a series of activities to allow us to stand together against hate crimes in the coming semester and to develop strategies to make our community better.  These activities will include:

  • Planning a day-long all-campus forum for students, faculty and staff that will invite broad perspectives on characterizing and dealing with hate crimes, as well as provide support and information about resources to help those in our community who are feeling threatened or intimidated.  Programs are being planned specifically for students on Thursday, January 24.  Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to attend these events.  If faculty are teaching classes, they have the option of bringing their students as part of their scheduled course activities.  Further information will be provided on these events, as well as on additional programs being planned throughout the semester.
  • Communicating frequently and clearly to all on campus about what is happening and what is being done about hate crimes.
  • Allowing and encouraging those in the campus community to get involved in these issues through open dialogue and by launching a campus-based reward to augment the Create Community reward.  Those from the SCSU and larger St. Cloud Community seeking a tangible way to encourage identification and prosecution of perpetrators may send contributions to the Anti-Hate Reward Fund, SCSU Foundation, Alumni House, 720 4th Ave. S, St. Cloud, MN 56301-4498.
  • Initializing a campus climate Web site to be accessed from the faculty/staff and current students sections of the SCSU Web site.  This site, which will be available by Jan. 2, will contain updated information about the crimes, what is being done to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to list available resources that can support victims.
  • Forming an ad hoc committee of administrators, faculty, staff and students to serve as advisors to me on this critical issue.  I will continue to seek consultation from all quarters of the campus community in addressing these issues.

It is important that we continue to share an understanding about what we know about these crimes and about how we can work together to stop those who are committing them.  These incidents are a clear affront to all on our campus and in particular to students from various targeted groups.

We are serious about these and other concerns about our community and campus climate.  I want to thank the students who have worked so hard to encourage dialogue about these issues and to help ensure that those who are feeling threatened or fear for their safety are given the support they need. 

Earl H. Potter III
President

 

Dec. 17, 2007 -- Top of page

University Colleagues:

Hate crimes on our campus have taken a more ominous turn with attempted assaults on a female student.  In addition to more than a dozen incidents of in-your-face, hateful symbols littered across campus, these crimes are a source of grave concern to our university. They strike at the very heart of our purpose as an educational institution and instill fear among many in our campus community.  These acts are unacceptable.

Our response as a university has been to increase security across campus, to swiftly inform the campus community of crimes as they happen, and to offer support from faculty and staff.  Investigations into these hate crimes are ongoing.  We recognize the U.S. Department of Justice definition of hate crimes, which includes "Intimidation – To unlawfully place another person in reasonable fear of bodily harm through the use of threatening words and/or other conduct, but without displaying a weapon or subjecting the victim to actual physical attack;" and "Destruction/Damage/Vandalism of Property – To willfully or maliciously destroy, damage, deface, or otherwise injure real or personal property without the consent of the owner or the person having custody or control of it."

I am heartened by the sense of "we" that I am hearing across the university in expressing the need to restore the feeling of safety that all members of our campus community want and deserve.  I sense that we are united in our resolve to think, problem-solve and move forward. And just as the university is concerned about the safety of our community, local law enforcement authorities also are concerned and using all the resources they have available to catch the people who are perpetrating these offences.

We are in this together.  We all are engaged in a struggle to affirm our values and develop ways to better support one another in an evolving, increasingly multicultural environment, an environment we embrace.  Today 20 percent of our faculty are persons of color, 6.8 percent of our students identify as people of color from the United States, and another 6 percent are international students.  Many among us hold beliefs that add diversity to the culture that dominated the campus for St. Cloud State’s first hundred years.  Thousands in our campus community are likely to have suffered in their lifetime hurtful, insensitive verbal or even physical assaults because of hatred expressed toward their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, national identity or other characteristic.

A large portion of our community is unnerved and frightened by actions so clearly meant to intimidate and threaten.  Those actions are impairing students’ ability to focus on their education.  We are here as a university to prepare students to succeed in life as well as in their careers.  A significant part of that preparation is to develop character, integrity, confidence and a sense of how to live and work together in harmony.  To succeed as a university we must create a welcoming, safe environment in which to offer that preparation.

How do we do that?  What we cannot do is turn to our students of color to give us the answers.  That’s not what they’re here for.  They’re here to get an education, not to provide one for others.  What we can do is strengthen our commitment to build trust in one another as colleagues and peers.  This always will be a place where differences of opinion are aired and conflict happens.  But the quality of our community will be determined by the care with which we approach our differences and our success in building understanding.

My wish for you is to have a safe and relaxing holiday, and to return ready to continue to build a welcoming community where we can grow and learn together.

Earl H. Potter III
President

 

Nov. 14, 2007 -- Top of page

Campus colleagues,

I am writing to encourage you to join me in denouncing bias-motivated acts which threaten the well-being and security of groups targeted by this despicable behavior.  I meant what I said in my fall convocation address: "We will have to deal with racism and its impact on our students, faculty and staff.  In fact we must do more than deal with it.  We must become known as a campus that is expert in building community.  We have already brought together a diverse community.  Our faculty includes many people of courage who have come here from around the globe to study and teach in a community characterized by respect and freedom.  That dream has not been fully realized, but if this is to be a great university, one that brings transforming value to the region it serves, that dream must be realized.”

Recent occurrences of hate graffiti on the walls of Atwood – the place we consider the living room of our campus – are an assault on our community.  Our mission as an institution is to prepare students to take their place as positive, contributing members of a global and mutually respectful community.  I expect each of us to accept all others who come here to learn, to teach, to serve and to grow.  I ask that each of us take responsibility to eradicate hateful misconduct and bias-motivated actions before they become crimes.

If you have any information relating to these actions, please call Public Safety at 8-3333.

Earl H. Potter III
President