Provost blasts Heckler, updates on diversity groups, in new e-mail

Provost James O’Donnell sent an e-mail to students tonight that criticized December’s Heckler controversy and updated students on the University’s three diversity initiatives.

O’Donnell said the Heckler‘s latest issue was another failure of the University’s culture:

We continue now in the shadow of another failure — the Georgetown Heckler website’s tasteless and offensive attempt to revisit last spring’s issues, which showcased a failure to comprehend some toxic parts of America’s past and present, a failure to realize that lynch mobs not only aren’t funny, their very invocation sends a painful message to many in our community who directly or through family members had to deal with such threats, while offending many others.

He also wrote that one working group’s proposals are under consideration by President John DeGioia and the Provost’s Office, while the other two working groups will soon present their suggestions for improving Georgetown on diversity issues.

Full e-mail after the jump

Dear students,

The celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the remarkable event
Georgetown hosted at the Kennedy Center remind us of a deep truth
about America and about Georgetown: a commitment to inclusion,
diversity, and democracy lodged in a history and a present in which we
are painfully aware that such commitment alone does not make for the
reality we seek. Since last spring, under President DeGioia’s
leadership, we have been pursuing an initiative to understand and
advance the diversity of our community. This is an update on where we
are.

The conduct of student media — official and unofficial — has
provided impetus for campus discussions. The initiative began after
the controversy over some highly unsuccessful attempts at humor in the
student press that crossed the line for many, raising questions about
what students know about people who differ from themselves and about
what does and doesn’t work as humor, satire, or parody. We continue
now in the shadow of another failure — the Georgetown Heckler
website’s tasteless and offensive attempt to revisit last spring’s
issues, which showcased a failure to comprehend some toxic parts of
America’s past and present, a failure to realize that lynch mobs not
only aren’t funny, their very invocation sends a painful message to
many in our community who directly or through family members had to
deal with such threats, while offending many others. The recurrence of
such incidents underscores how much the work of our diversity
initiative is needed — how much we need to take a variety of steps,
from the recruitment of students, faculty, and staff to the different
ways we support them in continuing to develop the institutional culture.

One group, co-chaired by Dean of Admissions Charlie Deacon, Senior
Vice President for Strategic Development Dan Porterfield, and College
second-year student Ryan Wilson, looked at how we build our community
through admissions and recruitment. They addressed questions of
student engagement, relationships with schools and others in the
“pipeline” leading to Georgetown, the application process (including
how we do the campus tour, how we organize recruitment weekends), and
financial aid. President DeGioia and I now have recommendations from
that group and will respond shortly to discuss implementation.

Another group, co-chaired by Todd Olson and SFS senior Josh Guzman,
looks to complete its work by April, looking at student life across
the campus. Their subgroups are looking at institutional change,
student organizations and creation of a campus narrative. Although
some of their work overlaps, each of the groups is currently working
towards drafting and editing their recommendations.

The third working group is looking at diversity in academics.
Co-chaired by Professors Veronica Salles-Reese and Eusebio Mujal-Leon,
they have had wide-ranging discussions of the framework within which
we combine academic rigor, commitment to truth, and commitment to
justice and inclusion. In particular they have explored how diversity
may emphasize local/domestic or international dimensions — and the
value of bridging the two, which is something Georgetown is
particularly well-suited to do. Much conversation there has had to do
with curriculum and pedagogy, ranging from appreciation of the new
“Doyle initiative,” sponsored by a generous donor to help us infuse
awareness of diversity issues and implications broadly across the
curriculum, to research and debate about a prospective diversity
requirement in the curriculum. (Some of the most interesting work has
gone on in a series, still continuing, of meetings with departments,
engaging key faculty, majors, and representatives from the working
group to explore how our academic units approach diversity in the
content and form of their teaching.) Encouraged by student research
into programs at other universities, the academic working group has
also looked at our academic programs and ambitions in areas such as
African-American, Latino, and Asian-American studies. Reinforcing
existing activity in those areas could inform choices about how to
strengthen our faculty with new recruitments. Like the student
affairs working group, this working group will submit recommendations
to President DeGioia and myself in the spring.

All this work is important and I applaud it. Georgetown, like our
nation, is always on the way from what it has been to what it can
become. To use these mechanisms to help shape that transition
deliberately, intentionally, generously, and ambitiously is very much
to do work central to the institution. I am grateful to the faculty,
students, and administrators who have given so generously of their
time to make this initiative work. I encourage those who have not
participated in this initiative but would like to do so to be in touch
with my office through Associate Provost Marjory Blumenthal to
introduce yourselves and be introduced to the appropriate leaders.

With best wishes for the new term,

Jim O’Donnell
Professor of Classics
Provost

2 Comments on “Provost blasts Heckler, updates on diversity groups, in new e-mail

  1. What a double standard: “the campus press” and “The Heckler Website.” Stop pussyfooting around and say you disagreed with The Hoya. And leave the Heckler alone.

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