UPDATE: We apologize for any errors in the initial reporting of this letter
Note: The following is a letter drafted by a group of faculty and staff at Pacific University in light of the recent events of this week. This letter was sent to The Pacific Index exclusively and is here published in its entirety.
Dear Pacific Students, Alumni, and Broader Community,
We have been hearing many stories from Pacific students about their experiences with various forms of trauma and oppression (e.g., racial discrimination, gender discrimination, mental health struggles, and harassment). These narratives sit with us deeply. They follow months (and years) of additional examples of oppression, trauma, and inequality. We recognize that disclosing these experiences is extremely difficult and that sharing these narratives is an act of vulnerability and courage. It is an act that, when heard, can move us closer to a culture of inclusion, equity and justice. In this light, we recognize your narratives as a gift1 because they provide us with the opportunity to learn more about social systems, institutions, and ourselves.
Your stories remind us of previous conversations we’ve had with students and/or our own experiences. These conversations remind us of the need to be vulnerable and learn with humility to continuously assess our practices. For example, even well intended actions can have negative impacts on people— especially people from historically marginalized groups.2
We are dedicated to working with other members of our university to become a model of collective accountability that other small liberal arts universities will strive to emulate.3 We value Pacific’s mission and want to be allied with an institution that truly “pursues justice in the world.”
We must work together to grow into a university that lives up to its potential of being a welcoming and supportive environment for all. We strongly support a culture that makes reporting assault and discrimination even more understandable, accessible, and as simple as possible for survivors. We will support any institutional efforts in the area of sexual assault prevention4 that encourage students to thrive on a campus defined by a strong and deeply embedded culture of mutual aid and bystander intervention.5 We eagerly support a culture that empowers BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and first-generation students, staff, and faculty, to ensure all are fully welcomed, included, and supported as community members. It is not enough that we admit a diverse student body, we must fully support a diverse student body. As we sign this letter, we commit to working towards these goals by:
- Deeply listening to you. To see you, connect with you, and learn from you; and not just when you have problems. We realize that this may be one of the most humble and validating things we can do.
- Working collaboratively with you when issues arise. Sometimes this will be to determine whether immediate action is wanted or needed. Sometimes this will be to think through immediate and longer-term options and offer assistance in navigating the campus bureaucracy. This requires us to work to better understand campus policy, procedures, and reporting options; doing so helps us better support you if you need or want to file a report in response to an incident.
- Fostering a campus culture where all Boxers—faculty members, administrators, staff members, and students—share responsibility for addressing problems within our community. To do this, we commit to understanding and advocating for policies and community norms that are rooted in anti-oppression. To this aim, we recognize that we are all harmed when one of us is harmed.
- Engaging in self-reflection about unconscious bias and engaging in self and community work that helps reduce our reliance on these biases. We understand that this will make us better teachers, advisors, mentors, and community members.
- Taking risks and being more vocal about calling out micro- and macro- aggressions. Similarly, we will sit with discomfort and be less defensive when being told that we have committed a micro- or macro-aggression. We recognize that having this brought to our attention is an opportunity to learn.
- Engaging in ongoing professional development around systems of power and oppression. This includes participating in training on trauma-informed care that would allow us to better support students; and advocating for training to be required of all personnel. We recognize that learning is a lifelong endeavor and commit to this journey.
- Working collectively to understand and support expertise already existing within our community; many of our faculty and staff members are innovators and experts in critical race theory, gender and sexuality, sexual assault prevention, public health, mental health and suicide prevention, and are interested in research that supports community well-being. We can be more vocal about sharing our expertise with the Boxer community. If we begin to rely on faculty and staff expertise, we will be able to build longer-term partnerships with each other, with our students, and with our larger communities.
We will not allow these to be empty promises. As faculty and staff, we vow to hold each other accountable to these statements. And as part of our community, we welcome you, as students to participate in this accountability. We can all do this by checking in with one another. Ask each other how we are progressing with these goals. We won’t always get it right, so when we fall by making a mistake, let’s get comfortable pointing those mistakes out, talking about them, and helping people stand back up; we ask for your grace and forgiveness as we learn, and we offer ours as you learn with us.
You can reach out to any of us for help in communicating these issues. We will hold each other and others accountable to creating a culture of support. We encourage you to use the university’s reporting mechanisms and will provide you with any necessary support through the process. In short, we ask you to join with us to envision how community accountability frameworks like transformative justice, which emerged from and are rooted in Indigenous, Black, queer, and other marginalized communities, could be applied to the Pacific context.7
Our world can be better. We will work towards change and create a system of accountability that includes everyone—faculty, staff, administrators, students, and the broader community—and ensures that we constantly move towards achieving equity and justice. Change is not comfortable, change is not easy, but change is necessary.
We are committed to transforming our community in order to strengthen our connections to one another and to rekindle and continue the process of healing. Our liberation is bound up together; let us collectively dream of and create an institution that makes us proud. One defined by a culture of belonging, justice, joy, and endless possibility.
Your future is our future. Today, we embark on this journey alongside you.
1. alto, When You’re Called Out For Racism Instead of Being Insulted, Try Viewing it as a Gift, https://crossingenres.com/when-youre-called-out-for-racism-76f494d336a5
2. Smith, Tovia. (2017, July 25). After Assault, Some Campuses Focus on Healing Instead of Punishment. https://www.npr.org/2017/07/25/539334346/restorative-justice-an-alternative-to-the-process-campuses-use-for-sexual-assaul
3. Hamer, J. F., & Lang, C. (2015). Race, Structural Violence, and the Neoliberal University: The Challenges of Inhabitation. Critical Sociology, 41(6), 897-912. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/
4. Silbaugh, K. (2015). Reactive to Proactive: Title IX’s Unrealized Capacity to Prevent Campus Sexual Assault. Boston University Law Review, 95, 1049. http://www.bu.edu/bulawreview/files/2015/05/SILBAUGH.pdf
5. Orchowski, L. M., Edwards, K. M., Hollander, J. A., Banyard, V. L., Senn, C. Y., & Gidycz, C. A. (2020). Integrating Sexual Assault Resistance, Bystander, and Men’s Social Norms Strategies to Prevent Sexual Violence on College Campuses: A Call to Action. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 21(4), 811-827. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/
6. Dolan, M. (2020, January 24). These Students are Bringing Transformative Justice to Their Campus. The Nation. https://www.thenation.com/article/activism/can-transformative-justice-on-college-campuses-work/