Dear Professor Cazenave,
Thank you for your letter addressed to me in the Oct. 22 issue of the DC. I appreciate the historical background and advice, but most of all your wishing me well.
As you said, in the recent racial crisis, I stumbled out of the blocks in being slow to show my support for the African American community, and I apologize for that. I hope to make up for that going forward.
I attended the student-led march on Fairfield Way last Monday. I saw the pain this and other events has inflicted on our students, and my heart breaks for them and the community broadly. Bias and bigotry against any group or identity has no place here or anywhere else, and I condemn it unequivocally. An insult to a group or individual based on their identity is an insult to us all, and to our values. It is also an affront to academic freedom in that it attempts to silence voices we need to hear in order to achieve understanding and seek truth.
Our students believe they have a right to learn in an environment that is welcoming and respectful. I agree, as I know does everyone on the Board of Trustees and the many faculty and staff groups I have met to listen about what they care about.
One of the questions I am often asked as a new president is, “What surprises you most about UConn?” Several answers have come to mind, but one of the most common responses I give is its sense of community — especially among students. Our students care deeply about each other, this university and the world. I have never been at an institution that cares more about diversity and inclusion, climate change and human rights in particular.
Yet racism exists at UConn as it does in society. And we cannot say that students and others aren’t affected daily by implicit bias, micro-aggressions, and remnants of structural racism common in historically white institutions.
What I can say is that we have an administration, Board and community committed to make visible progress toward the culture and environment we value: One in which students from traditionally underrepresented groups are present in numbers sufficient to prevent the isolation of mind and spirit, and in which each person is appreciated for their unique contribution to the life and mission of this great university.
In the coming weeks and months I will be working with the President’s Student Diversity Advisory Council, our university diversity committees and the provost and deans on both short-term initiatives and long-term planning in support of these goals. I will also be working hard with the search committee to bring in a Chief Diversity Officer who can help me lead this effort as well as effectively confront those incidents that must not derail us. I believe that by focusing on a few priorities, developed mutually, we can move the needle on those that are most strategic and thereby create the momentum to do even more.
I am determined and optimistic we will make visible and substantive progress that truly makes a difference in our environment. Sadly, I am equally certain there will be more cases of bias and bigotry against some segment of our community in the future, and that is where I need your help and that of our entire community.
I will use my office to speak out for our values in communications like this. But there is not enough column space and air time for me to do it alone. We can have a zero-tolerance policy for ad hominem attacks and insults based on identity, and our most powerful sanction is our own collected voices.
So thank you for wishing me well, and I hope you will be a partner in doing all we can to be the great university we can be.
Thomas Katsouleas is the President of the University of Connecticut.