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  • Author: wmgersie

    What is Juneteenth?

    The summer season in the US includes several holidays celebrated widely across the nation—Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. But do you observe Juneteenth? Have you heard of this day, short for June 19?

    Current American history textbooks proclaim Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the end of slavery. Truth be told, slavery remained relatively unaffected in many places, most prominently in Texas. It was status quo for slaves well beyond the Proclamation date—they carried on with their lives of bondage and subjugation oblivious to the fact they were legally free. It was nearly two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended, slavery was abolished, and enslaved people were now free.

    June 19 became known as Juneteenth. It is a holiday recognized by nearly all our country’s 50 states as a celebration and remembrance, a kind of Independence Day for African Americans. It is the oldest national celebration commemorating the end of slavery and honoring African American achievement and resilience, and goes further in promoting continuous self-improvement and respect for all cultures. Most commonly celebrated in Black communities, Juneteenth typically features prayer services, memorials, parades, and barbecues. Though attempts have been made, Juneteenth has yet to be recognized as a federal holiday—another reason why few celebrate Juneteenth or are even aware of its existence and legacy.

    Our country’s victory over an oppressive, divisive, and immoral system is worth celebrating.

    Collectively, we are exploring appropriate ways to reconcile the trauma inflicted on 4 million enslaved people and their descendants, in addition to the impact slavery has had and continues to have on our country. I empathize with the sentiment that a federal Juneteenth holiday would be valuable—in both recognizing a wrong and setting about making it right, and providing a healing moment for individuals, families, and the nation. Coming together as Americans to commemorate such a significant and triumphant day would be an opportunity to find strength and peace in each other. Like Memorial Day, Juneteenth could be a day of conscious focus that binds and connects us. Our country’s victory over an oppressive, divisive, and immoral system is worth celebrating.

    In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln referred to sacrifices made on the battlefield as a “new birth of freedom.” Each generation must renew our Founding Fathers’ pledge to do the hard work of forming “a more perfect Union.” In solidarity, we must remember the past to avoid repeating its mistakes. We must continue to work toward a society where all are appreciated, loved, respected, and included. Let us use this day to fuel our fight for liberty and justice for all. We are one in humanity.


    Leaning Into Discomfort: How to Dialogue Through Difference

    by Wayne Gersie, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

    Talking about certain social issues is something many find intimidating. These topics are touchy. They invite strong opinions and can involve debate and contention. Often individuals feel they don’t know enough to weigh in or worry they won’t articulate themselves clearly. But most often, what holds us back is simply fear of saying something wrong.

    To move forward in a quest for equity and justice for all, we cannot avoid discussions around race, sexual orientation, class and the like. Fears over unintended offense and acceptable terminology should not prevent us from having these tough conversations. It’s better to stumble through these interactions than to not have them at all. Fear of saying the wrong thing, whatever the motive, is a roadblock to progress. Some things are difficult to say and hear, but they need to be said and heard for that very reason. The only way to confront issues such as sexism, racism, and ableism is to talk more openly about them.

    Racism and all forms of bigotry are binary. You believe all groups are equal or you do not. There is no in-between. But just because there is no middle ground does not mean we cannot find common ground in such conversations. If we want a more equal and respectful society, all of us need to get over our avoidance of hard conversations. Equally as important, is how we respond to others when we are engaged in these discussions. Check the judgment, condescension, and shame when talking with one who may have contrary views. Avoid becoming defensive. Listen with the intention of learning and speak with the intention to build understanding. “

    “Just because there is no middle ground does not mean we cannot find common ground.”

    We will misspeak. We will make mistakes. We should expect to be corrected. It is not always going to be comfortable or easy. But getting it wrong is how we learn to get it right. Silence is complicity. If we truly care about social justice, we must ignore our discomfort. Fear does not justify inaction. We can’t be so afraid of making a mistake or being criticized that we don’t even try to do what is right. We are all poorer for the conversations that never happen.


    Michigan Tech Stands in Solidarity with Asian and Asian American Communities

    by Rick Koubek, President

    On Thursday afternoon the State of Michigan House and Senate passed resolutions “to condemn hate crimes, hateful rhetoric, and hateful acts against Asians and Asian Americans and to encourage Michiganders to report hate crimes to the proper authorities.”

    I had the opportunity to speak with leaders of our Asian student community this week to express my support. I also want to reiterate to all members of the Michigan Tech community that we are resolute in our commitment to provide a safe and welcoming space where everyone can thrive and feel a true sense of belonging.

    As Michigan Tech community members, it is our collective responsibility to take action in establishing this safe and welcoming community by intervening in and reporting instances of hate and discrimination.

    Sincerely,

    Rick Koubek

    President


    Diversity—Why You Should Care

    by Wayne Gersie, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

    Diversity comes in many forms: race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ability, age, and socioeconomic background, to name a few. All of these characteristics contribute to one’s own experience and understanding of the world. How has diversity impacted your own life? For example, how diverse is your neighborhood? School? Place of work? Group of friends? And if our lives tend to lack diversity, why should we care?

    There are some compelling reasons to seek out diversity across all aspects of our lives. If you experience diversity in your everyday life, you will have regular exposure to people, cultures, traditions, and practices that are unlike your own. Such exposure enriches our lives, stimulates and inspires us, and deepens our understanding of the benefit of differences. Not only will you augment your social development, but you will also increase your understanding of the world and enhance your ability to communicate. You will interact with communities and concepts with which you are unfamiliar and gain an enriched understanding of life. Becoming a global citizen who has a broad understanding of the wider world will be of benefit, whether you are traveling to a new country, working with diverse co-workers, or just reading about events in the news.

    “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

    – Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Diversity undoubtedly deepens and broadens your perspectives. Bringing together people from various backgrounds can help generate new ideas, transform vantage points, and catalyze methods for problem-solving that you may have never considered before. Quite simply, diversity fosters innovation.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, increasing diversity is the path to not just tolerance of differences but true acceptance and appreciation of them. Through contact, communication, and increased familiarity with people of many different backgrounds, we can diminish the misconceptions and prejudices that fuel discrimination. Strive for more diversity in your life. It will make a difference. When we listen and learn from others—and celebrate both what we have in common and where we differ—inclusion, belonging, and justice follows.


    Michigan Tech’s commitment to diversity and inclusion—Students

    by Rick Koubek, President

    Dear Students,

    On December 9, the University Senate, a representative body for faculty and staff, passed resolution number 41-21 Embodying University Values: Condemning Hate Speech, White Supremacy, and Ethnically and Racially Motivated Intolerance. Last Friday, January 22, a University Senate constituent who is a tenured faculty member submitted a letter to the Senate in response. By now, I know many of you are aware of this letter and feel hurt, concerned, and disappointed.

    To all students: I want to boldly emphasize to you that Michigan Tech condemns discrimination and racism in all their ugly forms, including ableism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and xenophobia. I delivered this message at the Board of Trustees public forum in December, and I will continue to share and amplify it because I firmly believe it. We can only be a great institution with a truly welcoming and inclusive campus.

    Over the past few days, many of you have reached out to me and other faculty and staff members expressing your concerns. As president of Michigan Tech, I apologize to those of you who have been hurt and I want you to know that it’s important to me that you feel safe, valued, and heard here at Michigan Tech.

    When I joined the Michigan Tech family in 2018, we put forth a series of Tech Forward initiatives. Recognizing that we need to work together to improve our campus climate, one of these initiatives is focused on diversity and inclusion. Since then, we have been taking action and making continued investments in this area. Dr. Wayne Gersie, our Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, now serves on the President’s Council, and we’re in the process of developing a strategic plan regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion that will involve every single department on campus.

    And, because everyone plays a role in advancing our campus climate, I also want to note some excellent resources currently available on campus to all faculty, staff, and students:

    Again, please know that discrimination, racism, and hate have no home at Michigan Tech. Thank you to those who have shared your concerns, and those who have engaged in dialogues, even when they are uncomfortable. We’re proud to have each of you as a student, and I look forward to working together as we make our campus even more inclusive.

    Sincerely,

    Rick Koubek

    President


    Michigan Tech’s commitment to diversity and inclusion—Faculty/Staff

    by Rick Koubek, President

    Dear Faculty and Staff:

    I want to boldly emphasize to you that Michigan Tech condemns discrimination and racism in all their ugly forms, including ableism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and xenophobia. As I indicated at the December Board of Trustees meeting, they have no place on our campus. We can only be a truly great institution with a welcoming and inclusive community.

    Michigan Tech’s University Senate provides a vital forum for discussing matters of importance to the University community. My thanks to the faculty and staff who contribute their time serving on the Senate.

    On December 9, the University Senate passed resolution number 41-21. Last Friday, January 22, a constituent who is a tenured faculty member submitted a letter to the Senate in response. These documents have entered public dialogue both here and off campus.

    Over the past several days, I have received communications from the University community expressing their concerns. As president, I apologize to those of you who have been hurt or offended. We are proud of the remarkable students, faculty and staff at Michigan Tech and are fortunate you have chosen MTU as your university home.

    I have asked our CFO to lead development of a comprehensive career advancement program for staff, and planning is underway. Our Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and others are involved to assure our values of diversity and inclusion are embedded in the program.

    Michigan Tech is fortunate to have the ADVANCE Initiative on our campus. MTU’s ADVANCE is a nationally recognized effort “committed to education and dialogue as critical activities in making equity and inclusion integral to faculty, student, and community life at Michigan Tech.” I encourage you to join me in using the valuable resources on their website and participate in upcoming workshops as they become available.

    I also have asked our Provost to work in collaboration with the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and academic leaders across campus to develop specific diversity and inclusion action plans for each of their units.

    Please help create an environment where all our students feel welcome.

    Sincerely,

    Rick Koubek

    President


    MTU Stands Against Acts of Violence Demonstrated Yesterday in Nation’s Capitol

    by Rick Koubek, President

    Dear Members of the Michigan Tech Community:

    While we support the right to freedom of expression, Michigan Tech stands against acts of violence as demonstrated yesterday in our nation’s Capitol. These actions contradict our work in creating an equitable, diverse, and inclusive community of students and scholars.

    In today’s climate, universities must remain stalwart advocates for free speech. Let us not take this responsibility lightly. We must regard diversity of thought as the impetus for discussion, not an excuse for intolerance or violence. And, we must transcend our personal ideologies for the purpose of enlightenment, not prejudice. As we reflect on current events and the role each of us have in forming a more perfect union, I ask you to join me in reaffirming our commitment to civility and public discourse, which includes:

    • Celebrating the exchange of ideas and respecting individual differences.
    • Inspiring an engaged community that actively seeks improvement through acceptance and understanding.
    • Creating and sustaining an inclusive and respectful atmosphere.
    • Promoting mutual respect and dialogue as we seek to sustain a culture of collegiality, safety, support, and openness across diverse perspectives, traditions, and identities.

    There is much work to be done, but I have great confidence in the ability of our campus community and our nation as a whole to advance the ideals of our democracy. Our future depends on it.

    Rick Koubek, President


    Board of Trustees Address

    by Rick Koubek, President

    Chair, Members of the Board and audience members. Thank you for joining us this morning.

    This holiday season, in particular, has provided a much needed moment of reflection. And, while there were many uncertainties in 2020, the year did bring into focus that which is certain.

    For example, we know the hands-on “Michigan Tech Experience” is a hallmark of our institution, but to have that dampened this past semester due to COVID restrictions only amplified its importance.

    We know our faculty and staff are committed to student success, but to see their remarkable efforts to deliver the very best educational experience possible, within the constraints provided, brought even greater certainty as to their commitment.

    We know that Michigan Tech’s core value of community carried the university and our local area through difficult times in the past, such as the Father’s Day flood. Once again, we see just how important it is for us to all work together. The success of Tech during this past semester has been underpinned by collaboration and community. That is for certain.

    And finally, although these are indeed stressful times for all, understanding, mutual respect and might I say, kindness, continues to be a special aspect of Michigan Tech. Without that, where would we be…and who would we be?

    Just last week the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, also known as FIRE, reaffirmed Michigan Tech’s “green” rating for policies and actions protecting free speech on campus. I point out that only 56 universities in the country received a “green” rating and Michigan Tech continues to be the only university in Michigan.

    While we strongly support free speech on campus, Michigan Tech does not condone hate speech, acts of violence, hatred, and racism. From ablesim and anti-semitism to white supremacy and xenophobia, we do not welcome such behavior on our campus. This directly opposes our work in creating a just, equitable and diverse community of students and scholars.

    I am proud of the many things our faculty and staff have accomplished together to create a welcoming environment for our employees and students. But, we all know, the job is not complete.

    And today, I am pleased to formally introduce Michigan Tech’s new Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Wayne M. Gersie. Wayne joins us from Penn State, where he led diversity efforts in the College of Engineering and the Applied Research Lab. Over the next few months, Dr. Gersie will be developing the diversity and inclusion framework for Michigan Tech. I hope you all will support him, and join him, as he assumes this important leadership position for our university.

    To our December 2020 graduates, I looked forward to shaking your hand in congratulations and giving you your diploma tomorrow. This is one of the gatherings we will deeply miss due to the pandemic. So, let me say congratulations to all and we can’t wait to see the impact you will have on our world with your degree from Michigan Tech.

    And finally, it is with mixed emotions that we also congratulate Dr. Bonnie Gorman, our Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, as she concludes a 25 year career at Michigan Tech and moves on to retirement. Bonnie, thank you for your remarkable contributions to Michigan Tech over this time. Your unfailing commitment to the students of Michigan Tech has inspired us all. Best wishes on your next adventure.

    In conclusion, to all of you this holiday season…may all good things come your way.


    Respect, Reason, and Responsibility

    by Rick Koubek, President

    Dear Members of the Michigan Tech Community:

    Our campus community is enriched by each individual voice on our campus. This includes our students, faculty, and staff who are first-generation, minority, LGBTQ+, nontraditional, traditional, commuter, residential, in-state, out-of-state, international, conservative, and liberal. We respect and celebrate the unique perspectives each of you offer.

    Unfortunately, choices made by some individuals during events this past weekend tested the unity of our campus community and raised questions about the role a public university plays in protecting First Amendment rights.

    As a public university, Michigan Tech is fundamentally bound to uphold the Constitutional right to free speech. We are legally prohibited from abridging free speech rights beyond restrictions on time, place, and manner, which are content and viewpoint neutral. And, as a taxpayer-funded entity, we cannot approve or deny requests from external or internal groups to use University space based on that group’s perspective.

    However, as an institution of higher learning, we also emphasize a value system that prioritizes a respectful, diverse, and inclusive campus community. Our Student Code of Community Conduct promotes the mutual and respectful exchange of perspectives, personal experiences, and ideas that enhance the quality of our learning, interactions, and world view. With that said, everyone has the right to freedom of expression. But, in no way does the University condone hate speech or language that incites violence or fear.

    Some of you have emailed me to express your frustration. Others have voiced their concerns publicly. Over the next few weeks, I, along with faculty, staff, and student representatives, will meet with our campus community to listen to your concerns, learn from your experiences, and collaborate on ideas that promote safety, inclusivity, equity, and respect on our campus.

    We also encourage faculty, staff, and students to reflect on ways they can facilitate respectful dialogue among our broader community. In our multiple roles as parents, friends, club members, or members of faith communities, we can use our skills to demonstrate our values of diversity, inclusivity, and respect for differences.

    The weeks leading up to the election will certainly test our resolve, both individually and as a campus community. We encourage you to demonstrate how free speech contributes to, rather than detracts from, the democratic process by using your free speech rights. We implore you to serve as a model for respect and reason. And, please vote.

    Sincerely,

    Rick Koubek

    President


    George Floyd

    by Rick Koubek, President

    Dear Members of the Michigan Tech Community:

    I grieve for George Floyd along with his family, his friends, and our entire nation. His death was egregious.

    As we navigate these challenging times together, let us serve as role models for unity and strength. Let us use our voices, our skills, and our influence to advocate for change. And let us elevate the level of public discourse around equity and inclusivity. The responsibility of justice rests on us all and can only be carried out as one community built upon a plurality of voices.

    Please know that we are here for you and our hearts are with everyone hurting across the nation and here at home.

    Sincerely,

    Rick Koubek

    President