University of Connecticut president Thomas Katsouleas is launching a university-wide search for a Chief Diversity Officer in the wake of the racist incident outside of Charter Oak over a week ago, according to an email sent out to students on Friday.
On the evening of Oct. 11, three white students were observed walking outside of the Charter Oak Apartment complex yelling the n-word and subsequently laughing. UConn police are currently investigating, and an administrative investigation is also underway.
Katsouleas’s email response comes after students heavily criticized the lack of official university response to the incident at a forum organized by Residental Life last Wednesday in the Charter Oak Community Center.
Katsouleas announced he has appointed Mark Overmyer-Velazquez, the director of the Hartford campus and a history professor, to serve as the chairman for the search committee, with the official roster for the committee coming later in the week. Katsouleas also said he has met with the Diversity Council, the Executive Committee of the University Senate, the directors of the cultural centers as well as other students to discuss an ideal candidate for the position.
“Those consultations helped sharpen the description of the individual we are seeking for this position,” Katsouleas said. “It is clear that we will seek someone who has the vision and leadership needed to significantly advance diversity and inclusion at UConn, help cultivate and nurture an environment that supports those values, and can play a lead role in effectively confronting acts that violate our values as a community.”
Katsouleas emphasized he stands with students that may be feeling threatened or out of place in the wake of the incident at Charter Oak, given that the university strives to be all-inclusive.
“We want everyone to feel welcome at UConn, including those from historically underrepresented communities. Yet every community, including ours, struggles to contend with episodes that have the opposite effect,” Katsouleas said. “This includes everything from basic thoughtlessness to outright bigotry. Unless one has had the experience themselves, it is difficult to fully express what it is like to be made to feel unwelcome or even alienated in the place that you call home.”
Katsouleas’s office hours will continue to be held in different cultural centers. His next office hours will be held on Oct. 25 at 9:45 a.m. in the African American Cultural Center. He said he plans to hold similar events in the coming weeks in the Asian American Cultural Center, the Women’s Center and the Rainbow Center.
Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President Priyanka Thakkar said the organization is working to turn Katsouleas’s ideas into solid plans and integrations.
“USG is working with the administration to make sure they are aware of the student experiences and hoping to work toward tangible and concrete change, whether through policy changes or implementation of initiatives,” Thakkar said. “Ultimately, we want to work with the president’s office as well as his colleagues and discuss how severe this truly is.”
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.