We the People: Diversity, Equity and Difference at the UW

We the People: Diversity, Equity and Difference at the UW


(applause) – Is this working? Is this working? Okay, good. Ross stepped away
from the podium. I’m gonna hang onto
it for dear life, (laughter) cause it is kind of scary,
but it’s also very important. All of you know that
this past year has been a very difficult
one for all of us who view diversity and
equity as core values. For those of us who believe, not only in respecting
differences, but in celebrating them, who believe in
justice and fairness, and who hold dear the idea
that all men and women were created equal and they
should have equal opportunities to achieve their chosen goals
and to contribute to society. I have to acknowledge that
it’s been an especially rough one for African
American young men and women. They saw their peers
gunned down on the street or stopped by a police
on college campuses for, well, walking while black
on a college campus. And who also saw on
video, in living color, their white peers
singing on a bus, not only using the n-word, but alluding to lynching
as somehow appropriate. It’s also been a difficult
year for those of us from other groups who
have also historically experienced oppression. For women who still are
subjected to men in power discussing their
bodies and their rights as if they weren’t
autonomous beings. For Muslims who watched
their peers at UNC killed. For Jewish students who
read about a peer at UCLA having her fitness for
serving on student government challenged simply
because of her faith. Many of you are probably
aware that today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and we must remember and learn. Prejudice, discrimination,
stereotypes, and the dehumanization
that they breed, can lead to things that
may seem unimaginable. We must remember. And we’ve had some incidents
much closer to home, like the racial epithets
that were hurled at our own students who
were marching to make sure we all understood that
black lives matter. We are not immune. Here in the Pacific
Northwest, at the UW, we like to think of ourselves
as progressive on these issues but we often fall
short of our ideals. This is not someone
else’s problem. And while I’m not any
more sure of the solution than anyone else, I know the best way to get out
of a hole is to stop digging. We may not be able to
solve racial inequity and all those other
forms of “-isms” everywhere in the country or in the world. I’m not that naive, but we’ve got to begin by not
being part of the problem. And we can only do that
by recognizing it and acknowledging that
it resides in us. That’s why, though
I’m a little scared, and I know that this is risky, we need to have this discussion, and we need to take action. So I’m gonna share with
you some very personal reflections and experiences, including my own
encounters with prejudice. I share these knowing full
well that I’ve benefitted from significant privilege. I came from a family
that was highly educated, and I have light skin. I am privileged. I also want to share
some observations about this generation of
students, your generation, including some that I’ve
experienced as a teacher in my 28 years here in the
classroom, with you, beside you. But as important, I’m
gonna challenge all of us, students, faculty, my
staff, my leadership team, to own both our
personal responsibility for the culture of
our campus and the institutional challenges
which persist here and throughout our society. We’re gonna begin that work
in the small group discussions at your table after my remarks, but that’s not
where it will end. Many of you have
already begun the work. You’ve organized
and participated in teach-ins with our faculty. You’ve held rallies and marches. You’re serving on working
groups and task forces addressing everything
from wage disparity to barriers to access, and many other factors that lead to racial and societal inequity. Just the fact that
you’re here today tells me that you’re concerned and that you’re
committed to justice. So before we start,
let’s remember that societal justice
isn’t a destination, a problem that can be solved
in a one-and-done manner. It’s a struggle. You keep at it. You keep working. Sometimes you falter. I’m sure I will as I
talk, but you push ahead. We’re here at the
University of Washington. We stand on Duwamish land
in a part of the world that’s known for
its biodiversity. Rainforests and deserts,
glaciers and gorges, eagles and goldfinches. A place where you can dig
for oysters and geoducks, grow apples and tulips. And we know that it’s
that diversity that makes this region so special, so
beautiful, so inspiring. Look outside, what
a gift of a day! Some of you probably chose
to pursue your degrees here at the UW because you believed
you would find support, feel safe, and be
accepted for who you are. Where you would
be buoyed by a set of policies and procedures that
would allow that to happen, and by a set of peers
that would welcome you. The National Study
of College Freshmen, which is conducted at UCLA, it’s been conducted
for over a decade, has been tracking the attitudes of college students nationwide, and it found that your
generation of students views itself as committed and
comfortable with diversity. More than 80% of this
year’s freshmen said that their ability
to work with peers of different cultures
and races was either somewhat strong or
a major strength. Your generation clearly
knows and seems to embrace that diversity is
important to learning and to preparation for
success in a global society, in a global marketplace. So then why has so much
violence and ugliness been happening on
college campuses? Maybe part of the answer lies in another question in the study. On that question, only about
45% of all freshmen believed that knowledge of
other cultures or races was even somewhat important. I think these two seemingly
incompatible beliefs, embracing diversity, but not
really claiming knowledge of other cultures, emerged
side-by-side because yours is a generation
raised on the notion that we can be color blind or
culture blind or gender blind. Raised to believe these
things no longer matter. They were an issue long past or even worse, that the
way to fix whatever bias or prejudice might
still exist is to become willfully blind to it. You don’t need to
know about differences to work across them because
they just don’t matter. But is this blindness
really a good thing? And whose color, gender,
faith, or culture are we erasing when we go blind? What’s being
whitewashed, so to speak? I can remember being a brand
new assistant professor. I just gave a colloquium
focusing on youth of color, that’s the group that
I work with and study, and afterwards one of my
colleagues commented positively about my talk, and then he said to me, “You know, I’ve never
thought of you as a Latina, “you don’t act like one.” And this was clearly
supposed to be a compliment. A compliment, I guess,
to his enlightenment, and to the fact that
I talk real good. I felt like screaming,
“What’s the problem with being a Latina?”,
or acting like one, whatever that means. Why is that a problem? It’s who I am. Why the heck should
that be a problem? W.E.B. Dubois, the
first black Harvard PhD, founder of the Niagara
Group that laid the foundation for the NAACP, he’s someone that I think of
as my academic grandfather because he was my
mentor’s mentor, put it best in a
very powerful book called The Souls of Black Folk. He said, “Being a problem
is a strange experience, peculiar even for one who has
never been anything else.” So maybe it’s time to
reset the equation. And admit that first
we’re not color blind, or should we be? And more importantly,
that we cannot just escape our history and
biases by pretending they don’t exist or
they’re in the past. We have to begin by
facing up to them. Racially based stereotypes,
biased attitudes, and racist beliefs aren’t
things that reside solely in or are perpetuated
by bad people. If they were, the
solution would be easy, get rid of those people,
take the bad apples out of the barrel and
done, problem solved. Sure, there are horrible bigots
and people who spread hate, and the world would
be a better place if we could stop
them from doing so. But racism and all
those other -isms are inside all of us and I
don’t just mean pale males. They’re passed down
over a generation in our cultures and
in our histories. They’re imbibed
by new immigrants as they arrive on our shores. But it’s often subtle. Sometimes it’s not even part
of our own consciousness. That’s why we have to actively
struggle to get beyond it. We can’t just will
it or ignore it away. We have to become culturally
aware and self-aware. Let’s not forget that men,
and they were all men, who wrote that all
men are created equal, an extremely liberating
and powerful idea that’s made a real
difference in the world. Nonetheless, when
they said all men, they did mean all men, and
they meant all white men. Many of them owned slaves. Racism was baked into
our country’s founding. And it remains in the
fabric of our country, indeed in every
country that I know of. And it’s there underneath the
surface of our daily lives. Sometimes racist remarks or
actions are clearly willfull and they’re meant to hurt,
to put people in their place. But even a truly thoughtless,
and I do mean thought-less, without thought, comment
born out of ignorance, plain and simple, can
still cause damage. The march organized by
the Black Student Union and others to say
black lives matter marked a day full of pride
for those who marched and many of them marched
right along with our students. It was probably the largest
march since the 1970’s. It was student-led,
and it was peaceful, and it was life-affirming. Then somebody
yelled out something about the demonstrators
being apes, and they turned something
joyous into something ugly. Words can damage. They may not break bones,
but they can crush souls, which is worse. Now it’s pretty clear
that those young men, the ones who shouted out “apes”, meant for their
words to hurt, but words can hurt just the same
if that isn’t the intention. When I was teaching a class
about intelligence testing, not all that long ago, in our
clinical graduate program, I’m a psychologist, one of my mentees, an
African American young woman, very proudly told the
class that the work on sequencing the human
genome showed that the genetic overlap
between races was 99.9%. And a young man in the
class followed her comment by saying that the
overlap between human and chimpanzees was 96%. Now, that’s true. In fact, the overlap
with mice is 85%, but that was not the point. I knew this young man and
he was pretty clueless about what he’d just said, about how he’d indirectly
made the comparison between African
Americans and apes, a comparison with a long and
difficult and tortured history. A history that still
stings and still has power. My student’s face had fallen. He hadn’t meant it that way, but the pain, the
insult, was still real. Cluelessness is not an excuse. Lack of knowledge about
the histories and cultures of those different
than ourselves coupled with confidence
that we can work with others of other races and cultures
are the perfect ingredient for a Molotov cocktail ready
to explode at any minute. So we shouldn’t be so
surprised when it does. These clueless microaggressions,
as researchers call them, as many of you have
been talking about, as our ASEs have been
talking about, add up because they’re
persistent and daily. And no, you can’t
just shake them off, and you shouldn’t have to. One of the contexts
for all this is that our neighborhoods and
schools have become more segregated
since the 1970’s, since before Ross was born. (laughter) We don’t know much
about difference because by and large,
we live in homogeneity, often based on class,
but race and class, in this country,
go hand-in-hand. College campuses
like this are often the most diverse setting our
students have ever been in. That’s why it’s the right
place to change the equation. But that requires putting in
the time to learn about others, to look inside ourselves
at our own upbringing, what we heard our parents
and our neighbors whisper, at what we’ve sometimes
thought or felt before we’ve caught ourselves. Many of you know I
was born in Cuba, and in Cuba, like most
Caribbean countries, racism has its own
distinct look and feel. Words that would sound
racist in this country, like mi negrita, literally
my little black one, are actually terms
of endearment. But that doesn’t mean that
a color line doesn’t exist, even though it
might be placed in a slightly different part
of the color spectrum. I learned from my
parents that I was lucky to be light-skinned. My religious aunt, who
went to mass every day, and who taught me
compassion and charity also taught me that white
skin was a gift from God, so we should be extra kind
to those who were darker. How incredibly condescending,
how white of her? But, they were good people,
and I admire them, and I love them to this day. But still, they held beliefs
that I won’t sugarcoat by calling them anything
other than racist. They weren’t so good about
gender equity either. They laughed at men
who were effeminate, and by the way, they also
thought Anglos had loose morals, part of the reason why I wanted to go away to graduate school. (laughter) But at least in this
country, they had no power, so the effects of their
biases didn’t extend far. But knowing what I
know about families and familial influence,
it’s what I study, not to mention all I know
about larger societal context and how it affects us, in
my most honest moments, I have to ask how
can these biases, these prejudices, this racism
not be a part of who I am? And because I am in a position
of power, it can matter. And I must be self-aware and
you must hold me accountable. And so must you. Since so many of
you will leave here and go on to be leaders, what you believe, what you
think, how you act will matter. I did try to bring my parents
into the 20th century, and I had some success, but in many ways, I just
ignored their prejudice until I couldn’t. When I met the woman I thought
would be my partner for life, and I was right, our 26th
anniversary is coming up in about a month, (applause) putting up with me is not easy, (laughter) I so much wanted my mother
to be part of our lives, which meant coming out to her. It wasn’t something
I looked forward to, but it had to be done. I expected my mother
to be unhappy, but I couldn’t have
anticipated what she’d say. “Now both my children are dead.” Nothing could have
been more hurtful. Her other child, my brother,
her son, was murdered. He was a civil rights activist
and a union organizer. And when you try to organize
black and white workers, in some parts of the south, you run into the Klan. He helped to organize
what was this country’s first anti-Klan rally. The Klan showed up and five
young people were murdered. And even though it was the
day before cell phones, the cameramen were there. It’s on film, I’ve seen my
brother get shot and die. He was 25, recently
graduated, and newly married to a woman of Panamanian
background who was black. There were many reasons
why he was targeted, one of them because
he was a race mixer. And it fell on me
to tell my mother. I’ll never do anything harder, and I’ll never forget
the sound she made. It wasn’t human. It was unbearable for us both. So to have her equate what
I just told her about me, about my happiness,
to that moment, it was just plain cruel, but I knew she loved me. There was never a doubt. I knew how much she’d
sacrificed to give me the life that I have. She even offered
to sell her condo, her only real possession, to get me into
conversion treatment. (laughter) She thought that
was a sign of love. What can I say? It was tough between us
for a bunch of years, and then finally,
something changed. I’m not, to this day I’m not
sure exactly how or what, but she was ready to
visit me in our house, and she grew to love
my partner, now spouse. Years later, trying
to fight her way back from a massive stroke, my
mother died in my arms, and I knew she was proud of me, and I hope she knew
that I was proud of her. It was the last gift
we gave each other. She was, you know this
isn’t about guilt, it’s about change. She was a strong, wise,
and compassionate person. At four foot eleven,
though she would only agree that she was five foot, she was
a Mack truck of persistence, but her life was steeped
in racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism. It’s not about bad
people doing bad things. It’s about us. This is not someone
else’s problem. It’s not about guilt. This is about change. This is about growth. Perhaps grudgingly, and
I can tell you certainly, it was an inch at a time,
my mother did change. She opened her heart to her
son’s wife, who was black, and to her daughter’s wife,
who was, well, a wife, although then she was a partner. And that not only
made my life happier, and believe me, it did
make my life happier, it made her life and her
death a whole lot better. She could have spent the
last decade of her life bitter and alone, and she
could have died that way too. Prejudice and bias
divides us from people. It’s the opposite of
that boundlessness that we talk about
that’s become our motto. Prejudice is all about
binding and limiting. It makes us smaller. Now, please don’t
think I told this story because I expect any of
the victims of oppression on our campus or in
society to be as tolerant or loving towards those
who seek to keep them down as I was towards my mother. She was, after all, my mother. She wasn’t a colleague or a
friend, much less a stranger. And I also don’t mean to
imply that through love, everyone changes
or tries to change, because love isn’t all we need. It’s good, but it’s not all. And though I did help
to educate my mother, I want to make clear
it’s not up to those in the oppressed
groups to educate us and enlighten us, and
when we allow those who are oppressed to
struggle for equity alone, rather than
struggling alongside, or serving as their allies, we’re not only
increasing their burden, we’re giving them
our burden to carry. We do not live in a
colorblind society, and the fact that we’d even
think that’s desirable, says something about how
we really view difference. Believe me when I say that
black people in this country cannot forget that
they’re black, especially on a
primarily white campus, even more so when they’re
the only in a class or a club, or, or. They know that if they
do something wrong, they will be judged differently
and I mean that literally. Just look at our jails. Words don’t break
bones, they crush souls. Stereotypes may be
all in your head, but they shape reality, and they create the
conditions that lead others to break bones or burn
crosses or murder. And this combination of words
and stereotypes and biases create the conditions
that lead to exclusionary or biased policies or
institutional practices that lead to maintain racial
and other forms of inequity and deny real people
real opportunities. So, where does that lead us? I’ve spend the better
part of our time talking about the personal
consequences of discrimination and bias, but I’m equally,
no I’m even more concerned in my role as president
about the effects of systemic or institutional racism. The barriers that diminish
our capacity as a society or in this case,
as a university, to truly fulfill
our public promise of both access and excellence. Indeed of access to excellence. One of our alumns, Nick Hanower, a philosophy major and
venture capitalist, those are not oxymorons, (laughter) also a proponent of
middle-out economics, captured it beautifully in, of
all places, a Facebook rant. In it, he wrote, “Innovation
is a combinatorial “and cooperative process. “Diversity is at the
core of that process. “Diversity supercharges
innovation. “Innovation happens when
we bring new perspectives, “ideas, experiences, and
solutions to the table. “Diversity drives excellence. “We cannot be a truly great
university without it. “To make progress on solving
the world’s greatest challenges “we must also make
progress on diversity.” Universities are
places of discovery, of civil discourse, of
difficult conversations. Here’s where we learn new
ways of looking at the world, of acting in the world. So let’s start the
change here, right now, because if not here, where? So how? I don’t have all the
answers, surprise. But let me suggest at
least a few things, and you’ll be
suggesting many more. First, refuse to
be a part of it. Call out your friends
who tell racist jokes or who make biased
assumptions about people of color, or women, or
the undocumented, or, or, or. Tell them it’s not funny, that what they’re
saying is offensive, that you won’t be a party to it. If you must, walk away. This is especially
important if you’re in the mainstream or majority, because we can’t just shift
the burden to speak out onto the aggrieved party,
it’s not their problem. And when they say
something, it’s often viewed as defensive or personal and
that’s not what it’s about. If you’re told by someone
Asian or in a wheelchair or gay that what
you’ve said is hurtful or insensitive, a simple I
don’t mean it doesn’t cut it. That just makes it all about you and what you meant, when
they had the courage to tell you how they feel
at a very difficult moment. Better is I’m sorry,
I was insensitive, I won’t do it again, and
then don’t do it again. Second, learn about others
that are different than you. Partly through human
contact, but also, guess what, there’s
reading and education. We have courses here. (laughter) We do. If you’re not sure
why your words were offensive or hurtful, and sometimes that
will be the case, put in the time and
energy to analyze and problem solve
it on your own time. Educate yourself, don’t expect
others to do it for you. And when you say something dumb, it’s usually not that
hard to figure it out, just talk to a few friends,
it’s not rocket-science. Third, take the time
for self reflection and self examination. I’m a psychologist, of
course I’d say that, but it’s true. Look into your hearts
and into your heads and analyze what’s there. Don’t let it scare you,
whether you’re black or white or brown, you
do have racial or gender or other stereotypes and
biases and prejudice, sometimes even about
your own group. It’s impossible to live in
this society without them. Knowing this will help
you catch yourself and not act on them, which
is what’s really important. Having a stray thought is very
different from acting on it. And with time and effort,
habits and thought patterns can and do change. You can get past your biases and really connect as equals, and make your world bigger,
and truly boundless. And your change can lead
to a world of change for our community,
for all our community. It’s not just what
we do individually. It’s also what we
do collectively. There was a recent article
in the New York Times about a neuroscientist
who was investigating the roots of
prejudice, and it notes that we’ve been shaped
to wear seatbelts, some of you may remember
before seatbelts, to recycle, to pick up dog
doo, to eat vegetables, but, and I’m quoting, “What has not come so
easily is persuading us “to identify with or
even tolerate people “we perceive as outsiders. “The killing of a single
unarmed black teenager “might prompt thousands
to protest in the streets “but social policies
that address the problem “behind individual fates,
programs to combat poverty “or racial bias in policing
remain as polarizing as ever. “What we need to do is hard.” So my last point
today is to ask you to share my commitment and
that of all my colleagues throughout the
university’s leadership to work in greater and
more comprehensive ways to strive for equity for
all in our community. We must take that challenge on. We’re still working
on and figuring out what this race and
equity initiative, at least that’s what we’re
calling it right now, will look like, and what
the different steps will be, but in many ways,
we’ve already started. You’ve already started. We’re following the lead
of our students who said loud and clear, that
black lives matter, and of our faculty who
immediately organized a teach-in, and of
the staff at OMAD, who’s already been working
on a new diversity blueprint and has initiated a series
of community conversations to learn how to better
support the communities we serve. Some of the pieces of the
initiative will include a review and implementation
of recommendations from the bias response task
force who’ve been asked to examine how we might
improve UW’s ability to receive and respond to incidences
of bias and discrimination. it will also involve work we
do with our faculty-search committees, to make
sure that members know how implicit bias
can interfere with what we like to think of as a meritocratic hiring process. This isn’t my initiative,
it’s your initiative. It’s our initiative. Together, we will, we can. We don’t have all the solutions, and I’m not naive enough
to think we’re gonna solve the problems of prejudice,
hatred, bigotry, or ethnic conflict here and now, but we can right
here, right now pledge to stop being a part, or
at least not so much a part of the problem, to
find our better selves, to build bridges
across our differences instead of erecting
walls or ignoring them. My friend and
colleague, Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University, who’s written several books,
including A Chinaman’s Chance, loves to point to a billboard
he saw on a busy highway. It said simply and powerfully, “You aren’t in traffic,
you are traffic.” We are the problem and
we’re the only ones who can change it. So let’s begin to
acknowledge our shortcomings and talk about them, not about them in other people, in those bad apples, and those
few racist folks out there, but in ourselves,
in our workplaces, in our living places, in the
places we study and learn. Let’s talk about how
we can hold ourselves and our friends accountable, about how we can change, about how we can take action right here, right now,
let’s begin today, because if not here, where? Thank you. (applause)

5 thoughts on “We the People: Diversity, Equity and Difference at the UW

  • We wholeheartedly support Dr. Cauce in her movement to raise awareness of the benefits to releasing judgment of others and easing the flywheel of second hand thinking!!!! This is huge, hard and completely doable by changing ourselves! Thank you Dr. Cauce, Cindy Jarvis.

  • An extremely poignant, personal and powerful call to action.  I believe it's on par with BHO's Philadelphia speech on race in 2008.

  • Would like to see something that heartfelt on the subject where I now teach at Washington University.  The St. Louis institution, trying to make forays into the world of racial equality by inviting the likes of Ken Burns to speak at graduation, is still largely dominated in the bulky administration by white men.

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