Friday Focus: Case closure a reminder to remain vigilant

Chancellor Dan White
UAF photo by Eric Engman
Chancellor Dan White

Sept. 30, 2022

— By Dan White, chancellor

The Sophie Sergie murder case finally concluded this week with the sentencing of Steven Downs. The case, while now closed, will always be part of our history and a reminder that UAF must remain vigilant.

Occasionally when we address a disciplinary issue for misconduct at UAF, I am reminded      that “we are a reflection of society” and our society is tragically affected by domestic violence, assault and discrimination. That said, we are also a powerful reflection of the good in our society and we have the ability to positively affect our future and the future of all who come here.

This past weekend, I was at a high school regional competition and witnessed a UAF faculty member serving  as a volunteer coach and supporter. Her children were two of the competitors and throughout the game, they were each true models of sportsmanship. They complemented their competition on their play, congratulated members of their own team and the other teams at the end of play. I was so heartened and refreshed. I thanked the faculty member for being so positive. She said, “what other way is there to be?” Awesome!

At UAF, we are also a reflection of that sentiment. And not only are we a reflection of that which is good in society, we have ways of promoting the good while also managing societal challenges. That same capacity does not always exist in society at large like it does here. We have positive people with a positive outlook that care deeply about one another and the overall climate of our university.

We also have the CARE team that springs into action whenever there is a student in crisis or a situation that requires corrective action. The CARE team is made up of leaders from divisions across campus, all of whom are dedicated to giving people a chance to do right, and providing them the care that they need to work through a difficult situation.

UAF’s police force, now 40 percent women, is dedicated to protecting UAF students and employees by taking a caring approach to policing and treating each individual in need. Sometimes those in need act counter to our code of conduct but I know that the police, the CARE team, the center for student rights and responsibilities, the student health and counseling center, the department of equity and compliance, residence life and the center for student engagement are all working on behalf of students to enrich their college experience and encourage growth of the whole person. I also know that this group takes a positive approach, because, well, what other way is there to be.

It is true that all students and employees coming to UAF are a reflection of the society from whence they came. At UAF, our focus on respect, diversity, inclusion and caring adds to the collection of experiences that makes us who we are. And as students eventually graduate and leave UAF, they will be a reflection of their experiences here. I thank the CARE team, all our student facing organizations, and caregivers. The work you are doing helps people and can change the trajectory of their lives for the better. Thank you for being a positive force for change.

As I reflect on the closure of Sophie Sergie’s murder case and think about the unacceptable rates of murdered and missing Indigenous people, I think about how we at UAF may not be able to change the past, but I know that we have great people changing our future every day.

Thank you!