Part of the Concordia Promise is a “multicultural, urban environment.” We are located in the heart St. Paul’s “Midway District,” a wonderfully diverse neighborhood. Over 40% of our traditional-aged college students are students of color and this fall we will have students from 18 countries on campus. Amazing!
We take great pride in our capacity to serve the needs of a diverse population and the response to our efforts from students and alumni has been extremely positive over many generations. We watch them soar with great pride and affection. The Diversity Affairs Office, led by Dr. Cheryl Chatman, plays a big role in empowering all students to be successful in college, especially students of color. For over a decade, Dr. Chatman has personally facilitated a large meeting as part of Welcome Week to introduce herself, the services of the Diversity Affairs Office, and the many multicultural dynamics of the university and its greater community to incoming students of color. It is the University’s chance to embrace and personally welcome them.
The Administration considers the meeting to be so important, that Dr. Chatman has even noted that participation is “expected” in the letters she has sent for over a decade to new students of color. This past Monday, August 1, she sent just such a letter of invitation to our incoming students to attend this meeting and did say that it was “expected.” One incoming student who received the letter took offense at the use of bold highlighting in the second paragraph noting that the meeting was expected. The student obscured the introductory welcoming paragraph, the third paragraph describing the subject of the meeting, and the fourth paragraph congratulating students on their new educational journey. The student then posted the obfuscated version of the letter on Facebook indicating that she was “saddened by this message.”
Immediately upon the public release of the edited letter, the University issued a response and Dr. Chatman reached out to the student via telephone to clarify the intent of the meeting. The student indicated in a followup post that the call was good, although she was still unhappy about the nature of the meeting and the letter. The message on Facebook was shared many times. The university responded to as many of these shares as possible eventually releasing the full text of the letter and a clarifying statement written by Dr. Chatman indicating the positive aspects of this meeting as well as the reasoning why students of color were being asked to attend.
I wish to say that as President of Concordia University I personally take responsibility for any controversies of this nature that occur at our university. I also want to say that I fully support Dr. Chatman in both her intentions and her actions, as do her many colleagues at Concordia who respect and adore her. Over her career she has empowered literally thousands of students to succeed in college, and become leaders in their careers and communities. I am sorry that some found the wording in our letter to be offensive, and we will certainly address that written construct. But I affirm our commitment to empower all students to discover and engage their purpose for their personal lives, careers, and lives of service to others. I look forward to the great things our new students will accomplish, just as we celebrate the accomplishments of the legions of our alumni who have gone before them.
Grace and peace.