We kicked off the 2015-16 academic year at Pacific Lutheran University on Sept. 2 with our traditional University Conference.
In a speech to faculty, staff and administration, I outlined what we call “the state of the university”—but this year, my voice did not officially open the Conference.
Instead, a recording of voices—actual Lute voices—shared hurtful phrases that you might recognize from our Diversity Center’s My Language/My Choice campaign: “That’s so gay.” “Retarded.” “What are you?”
These phrases all lead to one overarching question: Do I belong here?
It’s a question we have to address for everyone, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, socioeconomic status, physical disability—everyone.
And, while PLU has addressed issues of diversity in our campus community through robust discussions and events, reminders of the need for greater attention to equity are all around us.
This is the state of the university—and this is our goal: I would like PLU to become known for inclusive excellence: a welcoming community that engages all of its diversity in the service of student and organizational learning.
We need this kind of diversity to achieve our mission.
One of our new initiatives along these lines is the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT), an electronic reporting system that will help us develop an environment of respect, justice and care. You’ll hear more about BIRT at Convocation next week—and you’ll see BIRT all over campus soon, in the form of colorful, informative door hangers.
Incidents of bias—even unintentional—are at odds with our mission.
And we have a big, important mission. This year we also plan to continue to:
- improve student retention rates. We started the climb last year, with 84.3% retention of first-year students (up from 81.5% in 2013), but we are far from finished.
- improve our four-year graduation rate—one of the best ways we can do right by our students, both academically and financially.
- increase the transparency of our budget process.
- purposefully integrate PLU’s special blend of liberal arts, professional studies and civic engagement.
It’s all part of cultivating a welcoming university culture of trust, inclusion and safety—it’s vital to our institution, to its mission and to each of us.
Welcome to a new year at PLU.