Diversity Week: Living in our Truth, Kickoff Event

Remarks by President Denise Trauth

October 25, 2019

Thank you, Corey. Before I begin, I’d like to thank you for your leadership as Student Government President – and also thank Vice President Tucker Thompson. Special thanks to everyone in Student Government and the Dean of Students Office who worked to organize Diversity Week. 

This will be a memorable week for our community, and as I look at the array of activities you have lined up, I see manifested the university’s full support. Today’s event is made all the more special by the students who will be performing, contributing their time and talents. I’m honored that President Colette Pierce Burnette of Huston-Tillotson University is here this afternoon. Thank you, President Pierce Burnette, for being here to share your wisdom and experience with us.

Many of you have heard me talk about how Texas State values diversity and is constantly striving to enhance inclusion, and that these twin values are foundational to our core values. I have said it in university-wide messages and at events – like the Unity Welcome a couple weeks ago, and in an array of speeches and platforms. We know how valuable diversity is at Texas State – that it makes our community and our world stronger, and enhances our learning environment. But it is our moral imperative to reach higher and achieve true inclusion. It’s inclusion that will move us forward, and make a real difference in the lives and experiences of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

So today I want to focus on what is required of us in order to achieve true inclusion. Inclusion requires examining the truth, which as you know is this year’s Common Experience theme. The truth about our history as a nation. The truth about the ugliness of bias and hate, and frankly, how enduring that hate can be. And, the truth about the systemic inequalities that exist today. It means addressing the reality that many people – including some of our students, faculty and staff – live under the weight of stereotypes and bigotry, rooted in fear and ignorance. There are real consequences in our society when people do not value the lives and experiences of people of color; people with different gender identities and sexual orientations; people from other nations; and all the other labels that can be used to separate people. Discrimination can be blatant and entrenched, or it can be subtle. But in every case, it creates inequality. 

Inequality can do damage in every area of a person’s life – including their health, education, economic opportunity, and the justice they receive from our nation’s laws and institutions. 

Countless news headlines and research studies show evidence of this, almost daily. Like voter suppression in communities with largely minority populations. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether or not to extend basic workplace discrimination protections to gay and transgender workers. Across the U.S., the lives of hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients hang in the balance leading up to the Supreme Court’s hearing oral arguments in November – which affects members of our university community. Two weeks ago, a man attacked a synagogue in Germany, killing two worshippers on the holy day of Yom Kippur. The tragic shooting in El Paso this summer, which claimed the lives of innocent Latino and Hispanic people, which we know was racially-motivated. And health disparities, like the Flint, Michigan water crisis, which disproportionately impacted, and still impacts, the lives and health of black families. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha was just here a few weeks ago talking about its impact. In her book, What the Eyes Don’t See, she called it an issue of environmental justice, pointing to the fact that lead in the water is more prevalent in poor and minority communities. We can only imagine how different the response to water quality issues would have been in a predominantly white, affluent community. 

So, when we talk about diversity, it’s not just about bringing people together who look different from one another. It’s not just about demographics. It’s about the very real consequences of how those differences and differential treatment shape our lives. 

If you move through the world without experiencing discrimination or bigotry, count yourself blessed. Because if you’re a member of a diverse community, like ours at Texas State, your neighbor, your classmate, your teacher or friend may live with these things weighing heavy on their heart – and that, in turn, impacts the choices they make on a daily basis. When a diverse group of people comes together, they bring with them not only their talents and achievements, but their history and struggles. We cannot expect all these different voices and experiences to converge without bringing about change.

Inclusion requires change, and that change often starts with broadening minds and opening hearts. Our ability to accept and seek the change brought by diversity is the true barometer of inclusiveness. The truth is, the vast majority of universities in this nation were created by white men, for white men. Texas State University admitted its first black students in 1963 – 56 years ago. 

But here we are today, an incredibly diverse group of students, faculty, and staff – learning, working and thriving on our campuses. And the two university presidents you are hearing from today are women. That is a dramatic and powerful illustration of change and disruption. Inclusion is not molding others to fit the dominant culture – but expanding that culture to welcome people who are different, fully and unconditionally. You may have heard the saying about diversity and inclusion: “Diversity is being asked to the dance. Inclusion is being asked TO dance.” Whether you agree with that illustration or not, it’s true that here at Texas State, forming a diverse body of students, faculty, and staff is not enough. We must do everything in our power to make each person feel welcome, and at home in this community. 

Inclusion requires we respect one another’s humanity. It requires us to see that my story is not your story, and vice versa. It’s providing a caring, safe environment for those stories to be told, and for all voices to be heard. Inclusion is an opportunity to share cultures – like all the exciting events you planned for this Diversity Week; the Unity Welcome event earlier this month; all the activities we enjoyed during Hispanic Serving Institution Week in September – and that’s just within the last few weeks at Texas State. 

How we talk to each other matters. We won’t always agree, but we can create space to share ideas and recognize where they might converge for the common good. Our success is reliant on a culture of respect, openness, and intellectual honesty regarding the ideas and opinions of others – even when we disagree or feel offended. All of us deserve and need an environment free of discrimination and bigotry in which to live and learn. 

What does inclusion require from Texas State as an institution and a place of learning? It requires more than words – it requires action. That’s why we have worked hard to create initiatives aimed at building our capacity for inclusion. We created a Presidential task force to enhance services and support for students who are Dreamers. We launched the Bias Response System to gather reports and respond to non-criminal incidents motivated by bias. We are expanding training and professional development for faculty and staff about serving our diverse student body. We are organizing more forums and events for celebrating diversity and promoting dialogue on issues that matter to our Bobcat family. For example, we’ll host a panel discussion about DACA on November 5, which I shared in my President’s Corner message sent university-wide yesterday.  We have developed a tool kit that will enhance our efforts to hire more diverse faculty members. We are building a Free Speech website that describes our Constitutional rights to express our beliefs, plus guidelines to encourage safe and effective demonstrations. And, we published the Inclusion website to house updates, plans and resources surrounding diversity and inclusion. Those are just a few of the more than 60 initiatives listed in the Action Plan, which is published on the Inclusion website. 

We are committed to taking action. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but we have more work to do. We can always strive to do better. Make no mistake – to be truly inclusive takes hard work. For many of you here today, that may not sound fair. You may have already made sacrifices to realize your dreams, and faced adversity just to be who you were born to be, and you have persisted against great odds and blatant discrimination. 

We owe it to ourselves and to each other to honestly assess our own beliefs, and stretch our capacity for love and acceptance. This vulnerability is the essential first step to building inclusion. It requires us to have the courage to recognize our own bias, and the humility to consider another person’s point of view. Educate yourself: on your biases; on the experiences of people who are different from you; and, on the elected officials you’re voting – or not voting – for. Your civic engagement matters. 

These are difficult unsettling times for our country and for all of us as Americans. And it will not get any easier as we move into the politics of the presidential election. As we feel the impact of the national discourse, let’s remember: Texas State University is our house – and there is no room for hate here.

In closing, I challenge each of you, not just as Bobcats, but as citizens of a diverse human race, to follow the advice Common gave during his LBJ Distinguished Lecture last week: Find ways to practice love in every situation. Share small gestures of love at every opportunity – your acts of kindness could change the world. Never dim your light for anyone. And, work on your inner-self, which he said will be some of the hardest work you’ll ever do. 

Our celebration of diversity won’t end when this week’s schedule of events is over. And we have much work ahead of us. But in my 17 years as president, the most important thing I’ve learned about Texas State is that this community is home to extraordinary people. You are the reason this institution is here – to educate and graduate you to become leaders in your communities, your state, and your nation. It is an honor and a privilege to do that, and to serve each and every one of you. Thank you.