Author: Wayne Gersie

Celebrating Black History Month: Honoring Legacy, Embracing Diversity

Today marks the beginning of Black History Month. Observed annually in February, Black History Month stands as a testament to the rich tapestry of African American history, culture, and achievements. This month-long celebration serves as a powerful reminder of the struggles, triumphs, and contributions that have shaped the United States into the diverse and inclusive nation it is today. In this blog, we delve into the significance of this heritage month, its origins, and its alignment with the values upheld by institutions like Michigan Tech.

A History of Black Health

Photos of black professionals from right to left: two boxers, a scientist looks into a microscope, two dancers, and a doctor.

Welcome to Black History Month! You may not be aware that Black History Month grew out of “Negro History Week,” a celebration launched and created in 1926 by Harvard-graduate Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Dr. Woodson, also referred to as the “father of black history,” was an American historian, author, and scholar who studied the history of the African diaspora. Since its founding, this celebration has evolved from “Negro History Week” into a celebratory month used to highlight and honor the contributions and legacy of African Americans throughout US history—from abolitionists and civil rights pioneers to scientists, educators, and athletes.

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.

Leaning Into Discomfort: How to Dialogue Through Difference

Diverse groups of people sitting at tables outside and having conversations.

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.

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

Wayne Gersie.

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