August 11, 2020 Statement from President (Emeritus) Heckler
Over the past several months our country has experienced a significant resurgence in civil activism. This activism has mostly been in the form of peaceful protest, but some communities have experienced rioting and looting. This unrest results from the outrage many have felt over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, as well as the history of violence perpetrated against Black people for centuries. This systemic violence for many Black people has translated into a genuine fear for safety while navigating daily life at school, at work and in society.
At this difficult time, Valparaiso University acknowledges the need to examine difficult truths, to celebrate God-given human diversity, and to work for positive systemic change. Racism is a sin, according to contemporary Lutheran theology. As a University rooted in the Lutheran tradition, these commitments arise from a belief that all humanity is created in the image of God and possesses inherent dignity, and God’s love for all inspires a commitment to justice.
While Valparaiso University was a genuine leader in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and established one of the earliest major campus celebrations of MLK Day in 1990, the University is also challenged. Over the years, many of our Black community members have expressed encountering both racist attitudes and treatment by others. Furthermore, Valparaiso University is not immune to the broader systemic problems of American higher education in terms of access, representation, and curriculum.
In light of what is happening nationally, I would like to share what Valparaiso University has been doing this summer to support our collective community of students, faculty, and staff.
First, Offices of Multicultural Programs, International Programs, and the Division of Student Life have worked tirelessly this summer to support impacted students who have experienced hardships related to the global pandemic, civil unrest, and changes with our nation’s international policies. These offices have also created opportunities for students to virtually meet, process, and work on plans for how they will return to campus and re-engage. Our Black faculty and staff have also met regularly to process and support one another, as well as share ideas on how Valparaiso University can support students this coming semester.
In addition, throughout the entire month of June, the Office of Multicultural Programs continued to sponsor its innovative Creating and Nurturing Inclusion (C.A.N. I.) educational series. To date, more than 300 students, faculty, and staff have participated in the series, and it will continue to be expanded this coming year. Our entire University Police Department (officers, dispatchers, safety officers, and administrative staff), participated in the nationally recognized Fair and Impartial Policing seminar, which is used to help support bias-free policing.
Lastly, the Office for Inclusion and Retention, along with members of the Presidential Commission for an Inclusive Valparaiso Community (CIVC), have been working diligently on a comprehensive plan for the University called Action Agenda for Promoting Racial Equity and Inclusion. The high-level themes of this five-point plan have been shared with our Board of Directors, who support the creation of a task force to help support CIVC’s ability to refine the actions associated with these themes and operationalize this plan. The resulting efforts will provide Valparaiso University with a clear road map for how we will begin to positively move forward on these important issues. The Action Agenda will focus on the following components:
- Student Recruitment, Retention, and Academic Success;
- Faculty and Staff Recruitment, Retention, and Success;
- Diversification of the Curriculum and Promotion of Inclusive Programming;
- Community Engagement; and
- Inspirational University Leadership.
Here is a link to the Action Agenda, which I strongly encourage the Valparaiso University community to read. It includes the Agenda Items, sub-themed Action Items, and Action Steps that will be taken by CIVC, its task force members, and the broader University community. The Action Agenda will create a framework for CIVC’s deliberative work. The University’s leadership is confident that with the Action Agenda, there is a clear and transparent approach for measurable success under the topics addressed. Valparaiso University remains committed to being a University under the Cross where all are welcome and supported as members of our University community.
May God guide us as we do this important work together.