Statement on President David L. Boren and Moral Leadership in Wake of Racist Video

Thursday, March 12, 2015

“We know the march is not yet over.  We know the race is not yet won.”
 --President Barack Obama, Selma, AL, March 7, 2015  

David L. Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma, deserves the highest praise for his moral leadership and swift but considered actions in the wake of the recent posting of a racist video produced by members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. I join with President Boren in expressing my admiration for the vast majority of University of Oklahoma students who are coming together to proclaim their opposition to racism in their community. I also urge all higher education leaders to join with David Boren in affirming zero tolerance for any racially or ethically charged actions that disfigure our educational communities and our shared democracy. Every student deserves the opportunity to learn in a supportive and constructive environment.  

2015 is a year of anniversaries. Americans are contemplating the lessons of Selma, the historic achievement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the troubling drumbeat of assaults, both legal and political, that now threaten many citizens’ full exercise of the right to vote. Americans also are thinking about the end of the Civil War in 1865—and about the swift construction of legally enforced racial segregation that emerged very quickly after the war. While legal barriers to integration have since been ended, the fact is that, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, segregation is intensifying rather than disappearing in many US communities. 

Guided by our mission to advance liberal education and inclusive excellence, we at AAC&U have been asking about our own responsibilities in the advancement of inclusive democracy. Acknowledging how far we still have to go in the nation’s struggles for full inclusion, AAC&U is devoting its Centennial Year to a searching exploration of the disparities that riddle our educational system, resulting in broad learning for some and narrow, truncated learning for many low-income students and students of color.  

In this context, we warmly encourage our members to hold campus discussions exploring where we are in our long history of multiple struggles for full inclusion in US democracy, and, even more important, where we want to go. 

In multiple national initiatives, publications, and statements, we have long urged our members to recognize that race is—and has been for centuries—the historical stain that most divides our country. As the national panel guiding AAC&U’s American Commitments initiative put it in a landmark AAC&U report, The Drama of Diversity and Democracy, “of all the sources of unequal power in the United States, race is the razor that most brutally cuts and divides.”

As campuses rally to discuss the needed societal and campus actions in the wake of campus incidents like the one at the University of Oklahoma or in the wake of wrenching and racially framed events in the larger society, we strongly recommend that college leaders and educators engage their communities in searching dialogue, mutual learning, and equity-minded action. 

Carol Geary Schneider

Here are some specific resources to help us all engage this nation’s racial legacies and collectively educate ourselves and our communities in order to move toward a deeper engagement with this nation's ongoing struggle to become a fully inclusive and just democracy. 

See:

Remarks by President Obama at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches

Making the Right Call on SAE Fraternity,” by Eric, Liu, member of LEAP National Leadership Council

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence
(AAC&U 2013 Board of Directors Statement)

America’s Unmet Promise: The Imperative for Equity in Higher Education (2015)

The Drama of Diversity and Democracy: Higher Education and American Commitments
(see foreword to 2011 edition by Ramón Gutiérrez)

A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future (2012)
(see online pdf and note Chapters 4 and 5 on intergroup dialogue and civic problem solving)

Patricia Gurin, Biren (Ratnesh) A. Nagda, and Nicholas Sorensen, “Intergroup Dialogue: Education for a Broad Conception of Civic Engagement,” Liberal Education, Spring 2011

“Step Up and Lead for Equity: What Higher Education Can Do to Reverse Our Deepening Divides” (Forthcoming, AAC&U, April 2015)

“Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: A Campus Guide for Self-Study and Planning” (Forthcoming, AAC&U, April 2015)

To order AAC&U campus resources on diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence, see: online store

See other online resources on “diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence,” including campus models and tools at: www.aacu.org/resources/diversity-equity-and-inclusive-excellence