As the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday approaches, I want to take time to talk about how we as a university can honor the legacy and ideals of Dr. King.
As an academic institution, we encourage our students to explore new ideas and express their diverse thoughts in constructive ways, and this exchange of competing ideas is an important catalyst for the expansion of knowledge.
Students learn from those whose experiences, beliefs and perspectives are different from their own, and a richly diverse intellectual and social environment such as the NIU campus provides an opportunity to enrich the educational experience of all of our students.
At college, students encounter ideas, books and people that challenge their preconceived ideas and beliefs and help them form independent judgments. This challenges stereotypical preconceptions and encourages critical thinking, which is a key outcome of higher education.
These ideals are reflected in our mission and vision statement: “The university values a community of diverse people, ideas, services and scholarly endeavors in a climate of respect for the intrinsic dignity of each individual.”
As NIU strives to be a model 21st century institution of higher education, we recognize the diversity of the region we serve. NIU celebrates its many cultural differences and is committed to treating each individual with respect in a campus culture that can openly discuss important issues in a constructive fashion. After all, that’s what the college experience – and the NIU experience in particular – is all about.
Recent events in Paris have shown us why it is so important that we build respectful relationships, have dialogue and work for the common good, no matter your faith, ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic background. We need to strive for a pluralistic and respectful environment and build that kind of society.
NIU promotes these ideals in many ways, and among them are campus events and service learning. I invite all of our students (and the rest of our campus community) to take part in next week’s MLK service week activities promoting civic reflection, community service, equality and diversity awareness throughout campus and in the community. As our first-year common reading experience author Eboo Patel noted this fall, these activities are important in helping us build trust, respect and relationships as we strive to build the common good, and in turn, it is our hope that they continue to strengthen our inclusive culture.
Finally, I have regularly used this forum to talk about aligning resources in support of our mission and vision. Diversity is another area where we are aligning our resources in support of an institutional priority. Last year, Lisa Freeman and I appointed a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force co-chaired by Athletics Director and AVP Sean Frazier and Board of Trustees Professor Laura Vasquez.
The task force’s work was completed this fall; one of the key recommendations was the establishment of a chief diversity office for NIU. We are initiating that search using an open position formerly funded in the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President area to support it. Shortly, we will establish a committee to begin the national search to fill this position. Our heartfelt thanks to the task force members for their broad, deep and important work. The final report can be found on my website.
I am excited about welcoming this person to the president’s cabinet, and Provost and EVP Freeman and I look forward to working with him or her to further strengthen the NIU values of equality, diversity, inclusion and community in our student body, our faculty and staff, alumni and in the community and region we serve.