An Inclusive Campus Community

Dear UM Campus Community,

Over the past several weeks I have been reflecting on our campus commitment to a culture of inclusive excellence in the face of ideas that run counter to the wellbeing of a diverse campus.

As we are all aware, the current political climate in our country is marked by divisiveness and strong partisan sentiment. We could debate how this era compares to previous times in our country, but I am particularly concerned by the tone of the some of the rhetoric we’ve seen in recent months and the promotion by some groups – across the country and here in Montana – of ideologies that espouse discrimination, hate, and intolerance. 

At the University of Montana, I am particularly proud that we have remained firm in our commitment to a culture of inclusivity and diversity and that we continue to actively oppose intolerance and hate in our community. At the same time, we are a public institution committed to freedom of speech for all. There have been and will be in the future speakers on campus who express views that do not align with our core beliefs. I want you to know that allowing these individuals to speak on campus is not an endorsement of their views. Rather, it is an affirmation of our commitment to the free expression of a diversity of ideas. And we must acknowledge that our belief in the right of all to express their views may sometimes result in the airing of ideas with which we disagree vehemently and that challenge our efforts to foster an inclusive campus. 

This is our challenge to embrace. Our Constitution and a long history of case law make it clear that public universities cannot ban speakers based on content or viewpoint. However, as a campus community, we are obligated to ensure the safety of all while actively challenging the ideas that we find harmful. 

I expressed last Februarythat we must—every day—respond to bad ideas with good ones. I am proud of the thoughtful dialogue fostered at UM, especially those dialogues that demonstrate an inclusive campus culture. I encourage all of us to take advantage of the learning that accompanies our participation in events such as DiverseU. Last month our Native American, Pacific Islander and Black Student Union student groups, in stunningly powerful performances at Family Weekend and the Board of Regents, proved that inclusivity wins out over divisiveness every time, without question.

And as two of the world’s major religions celebrate holidays this season, we can draw many lessons in support of an inclusive community. Both religions celebrate the hope that we can triumph over the forces that afflict and oppress members of our community. These celebrations affirm our efforts to overcome those who seek to divide and diminish.

The next couple of weeks present us with new opportunities to express our commitment to diversity and inclusivity. I provide just a few examples here: 

Please join Chelsea, the kids and me as we take time this holiday season to pause and reflect. Come participate in these events and celebrate those things that highlight our similarities and recognize our differences. We all have much to learn from our diverse community. And these are the conversations that make me proud to be part of our UM family whose strength comes from its openness to learning from others.

Seth