Friday Focus: From where I sit

June 26, 2020

Tori Tragis

Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White, chancellor

When people prepare to share their view, they often use the expression from my perspective, or better yet, from where I sit. “From where I sit, here is how the world works.” 

I have always enjoyed the expression because it makes me think of sitting on a front porch and observing the world as it goes about its business. I have never lived in a house with the proverbial front porch but it sounds great.

But the view from where each of us sits, literally and figuratively, is informed by the entire environment around us and the history that formed it. Formed by nature, people and history. Shaped by events and crises. Of course, when people use the expression “from where I sit,” they are not talking about where they actually sit, just their point of view. But the analogy is useful and descriptive. 

I thought of this expression this last week in the context of racism and institutional bias. I heard on several occasions, “I don’t see it” or “racism is not a problem here.” Each time, this should have been preceded by, “from where I sit.” Because where you sit makes a big difference. 

Racism and institutional bias exist, whether you can see it from where you sit or not. But everyone sits somewhere, and where you sit makes a difference. We all sit in a unique place at a unique moment in time. Although each of our history is shaped by different forces, we all find ourselves sitting now at the university, a place where we can make a difference (and a place that could use one). 

If you did not read Vice Chancellor Evon Peter’s Friday Focus last week or Vice Chancellor Keith Champagne’s the week before, I encourage you to look back at them. One takeaway message was that everyone is part of the change. No matter whether you see bias from where you sit, you have a role. It is my hope that UAF is a destination for all who seek an environment free from discrimination. It is not now, but we can make it better. You can make it that way, whoever you are and wherever you sit. 

In the Chancellor’s Core Cabinet meeting earlier this week, your Vice Chancellor for Research, Dr. Nettie La Belle-Hamer, shared a story. Someone had said to her, “You don’t look like a scientist.” Her response was, “Because I am a scientist, by definition, a scientist looks like me.” 

We discussed the importance of this expression to UAF students, and how important it is for students to know what a scientist looks like. It looks like them, and you. What does a faculty member look like, or an administrator? At UAF, a Vice Chancellor looks like an African-American, an Alaska Native and an East Indian. Vice chancellors are men and women. A vice chancellor could just as easily look like any other gender identity, ethnicity or nationality. It can look like you, whoever you are and wherever you sit.  

Speaking of where I sit, I find that with back-to-back Zoom meetings, I sit a lot and in the same place with the same view of my Zoom screen. But today I had the opportunity to walk across campus for only the third or fourth time since the pandemic forced most of us off campus. In my time there I crossed paths with a handful of UAF’s faculty, staff and administrators. It was a refreshing and rejuvenating experience. For most of us, we have not had face-to-face interactions with our colleagues for months. That is a long time. I miss the brief interactions in the hallway, the short meeting or half-day work sessions. I miss you. From where I sit, I look forward to putting the safety measures in place so that we can get back to engaging personally, in a safe and healthful way.

I hope that you will take a minute to think about the view from where you sit. If you don’t see bias, get up and sit somewhere else. Find someone who sits in a different place, and have a look at the world they see. Be uncomfortable. Change is uncomfortable. But from where I sit, UAF is a great place to make change happen.

Thanks for choosing UAF.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week. On occasion, a guest writer is asked to contribute a column.