Friday Focus: Words matter

April 26, 2019

Tori Tragis

UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White, chancellor

As chancellor, I convene two cabinets consisting of university leaders. The chancellor’s core cabinet is made up of the provost, vice chancellors, the executive officer, and the director of university relations. The core provides me with guidance and direction on some operational issues but generally more strategic and long-term thinking. The second group is the chancellor’s cabinet. It is a bit broader, includes core members, associate vice chancellors, some unit directors, and faculty, staff and student governance leaders. Chancellor’s cabinet serves as a venue for dissemination of information and discussion on wide ranging operational issues.

In both of these meetings this week we discussed safety — not physical safety but psychological safety. All agreed that we cannot achieve our mission of education and research in an environment where students, faculty or staff are subjected to racism, oppression or other social injustices.

At UAF, we can achieve our mission by growing an environment that values diversity, inclusion and caring, and that is equitable and free of racism. We must have an environment that does not condone or tolerate commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostility or negativity toward others in our university community.

We have recently had a few on-campus incidents where derogatory comments were directed toward another’s culture, race or gender expression hurt members of our university community. Words matter, and we deserve better.

Psychological safety is as important as physical safety. Our students are at risk if we do not care for their psychological well-being as vigorously as we protect their physical safety. Every individual at our university deserves the freedom to focus on their work or studies free from denigration based on race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, parenthood, nationality, political view, or any other reason. Our success depends upon growing an environment free of racism and discrimination.

Being woke refers to our cognizance of the various forms of modern racism. When we recognize discrimination, we must have the tools to prevent it. That is where faculty, staff and students play a key role. I have said that we are all responsible for each other’s safety at UAF, which includes psychological safety. Green Dot is a bystander intervention program that provides each of us the tools to prevent violence and abuse. Look to the tools of Green Dot to prevent psychological abuse, and take part in the many programs on campus that highlight and address these topics.

Yesterday UAF held a veterans memorial event because on Memorial Day, most students will be away on summer break. Our veterans fought and died for freedom in our country, including the freedom for universities like UAF to educate students who need not fear oppression. As I reflected on how we can honor our veterans, it was clear to me that one way to do so is by living out the ideals that our veterans fought to protect. Please help protect the ability of all UAF students, faculty and staff to work and study in an environment free from discrimination in all its forms. Words matter. Please do your part to make your words ones that support all in our UAF community.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.