Valparaiso University intentionally invites people from different backgrounds, belief systems, and cultures to live with one another and join in a common pursuit of truth. As a unique community of learning, we seek to model for one another and for the world what it could be like to live in a community of love and mutual respect even when we differ with one another. And as the University’s president, I am fervently committed to cultivating an environment in which all are free to engage in open dialogue and expression while treating one another with dignity and respect.
Valparaiso University’s Board-approved non-discrimination statement welcomes all people regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. As an independent Lutheran University, we will continue to welcome people of all faiths, cultures, and walks of life to join us in this community of dialogue across difference under our distinctive Lutheran model of education.
In the midst of a whirlwind of papers and exams heading into the Thanksgiving holidays, a whirlwind of extraordinary events have engendered national and international unrest and fear of those who may differ from one another on matters of race and religion. Protests in cities and on college campuses across the country remind us that we have much work to do as individuals, as universities, and as a nation in reaching an environment in which each person feels welcome and included, where each person is truly respected and valued regardless of race or religion. A new generation of students cries out for respect and for justice. These students yearn for and deserve a campus environment of love and mutual respect. So too we mourn with our sisters and brothers in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria, and Iraq, as they struggle to make sense of tragic acts of terror directed at innocent people, all in the name of religion. And we shudder at those who would seek personal or political gain by stoking our fears of those whose religion may differ from our own, or those who seek refuge from the dark forces of terror unleashed in their communities and nations.
During these challenging times, it is of paramount importance for us, as the Valpo community, to acknowledge what we have been called here to do: to face our differences directly and honestly, to seek understanding and reconciliation, and to grapple with our differences with care and compassion, affording each person dignity and respect. At Valpo, we seek to question, to challenge, and to discover how our individual passions fuel our purpose in life, but we also strive to live as a welcoming and inclusive community with all of the inherent paradoxes and conflicting points of view that come with being part of this place. To do both, we must work collectively to foster an environment where everyone feels safe and where diversity is respected and included.
Much work has been done on our campus over the past five years to identify opportunities to promote dialogue across cultures in our increasingly diverse community. Programs and training are available with The Welcome Project and a team of diversity facilitators, a Bias Report Line was launched, and the Faculty Senate adopted a statement of diversity and inclusion for all classes. In July, Stacey A. Miller, Ed.D., was appointed as assistant provost for inclusion to champion this important work and to recruit and retain a more diverse faculty and staff. As we advance diversity and inclusion as core values of Valparaiso University, we will continue to look not only at what we have accomplished, but what we can do better. And we know we can do better.
In closing, Valparaiso University must strive to be a place where all are welcomed, where all are included, where everyone feels both safe and valued. Consequently, this University will not tolerate any actions, words, or symbols intended to harm or threaten members of our community. Simultaneously, this University holds, as a core value, the free and unfettered pursuit of truth, which sometimes presents controversial ideas that challenge and provoke us to think more carefully about the claims and counter-claims we make as part of this community of learning. Such are the tensions and paradoxes of living, working, and learning at a place like Valpo.
We will continue to take more steps toward making this University a beacon for all who wish to come together in community across a world of differences, who choose to live and learn together with dignity and respect in the common pursuit of truth. I commend you for being part of this extraordinary and challenging undertaking and welcome your thoughts on how we might advance our vision in the months and years ahead.
Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D.