Dear Rice students and colleagues:
The beginning of the academic year is always an exciting time as our community is renewed and energized by the arrival of new and continuing students, faculty and staff. One of Rice’s most precious attributes is our sense of community, which is nourished in large part by the values that shape our behaviors and decisions. Each fall, I send a letter to the community reiterating those values.
This year, we return to campus in the shadow of the events at Charlottesville, where hatred and intolerance by white nationalists and supremacists led to tragic loss of life and serious injury. Hateful actions like these and the racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric that accompanied them have an impact far beyond the directly affected city or campus. These events remind us of the vital importance not only of our values, but also the responsibility we take for following through on those values. We must condemn hate speech and violence such as occurred in Charlottesville.
Unfortunately, these were not the only external events over the summer that were inconsistent with our own community values. The administration in Washington issued a renewed travel ban for six countries that not only made it difficult for students from those countries to pursue studies in the United States, but also caused deep concern among those who perceived a discriminatory animus or potential threat, especially among Muslims. In June, the president tweeted that he would ban transgender persons from serving in the military. This was offensive to transgender individuals who have served bravely in the armed forces, and ultimately threatening to the equality and freedom of all transgender people. Thankfully, the proposed state “bathroom bill,” which received widespread publicity over the summer, was ultimately not enacted by the Texas Legislature. And contrary to what was promised earlier, a number of people who have built their lives in this country from a young age have been deported even though they have committed no significant offenses. In some cases, this has led to a wrenching separation of families. In the meantime, there has been no clear affirmation from the administration that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program will be continued.
I mention these events because I believe it is vitally important for all of us to appreciate how those on our campus may be affected. They also reinforce the need for clarity about our own values and commitments.
Let me be unequivocal on several points. First, we will not tolerate actions that threaten physical harm or deny access or opportunity to those on our campus. We treasure our diversity in all its dimensions and welcome all members of our community. We will work to assure that our DACA students and other immigrants are able to pursue the full range of opportunities offered at Rice and beyond. As I wrote last year, "We want to be clear that all of our students -- whether citizens or not, whether born in the U.S. or not, whether recognized as immigrants or not -- are a cherished part of our community, and we will always work to assure their ability to complete their studies and pursue their dreams." We will treat students, faculty and staff of every race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality and ability status with respect and appreciation.
As many of you know by now, our values are represented in the letters of our university’s name: Responsibility, Integrity, Community, Excellence. These values are intended to guide our behavior and define our culture. I hope we all are dedicated to bringing them to life in our everyday work, studies and activities, both on and off campus.
Showing respect and demonstrating civility toward all is also a foundational element of our culture. This includes those with whom we have deep disagreements. We must resolve to engage with others and to be open to the exchange of perspectives and ideas. We cannot resolve disagreements or build bridges by attempting to silence others.
We ask all members of our community to reflect our values through our actions. Show respect for everyone on campus, regardless of position or office. Be sure not to discriminate against any individual because of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, age, disability or veteran status. Consider how our words might be hurtful to someone else, seek to eliminate personal biases, preferences and preconceived stereotypes. Make accommodations for persons with disabilities, and be ready to assist them. Be inclusive and reach out to others who make up our diverse population. Respect the freedom of expression and privacy of others. Remain alert to, and help eliminate, bad behaviors that damage our community in the classroom, residential colleges, graduate student residences and other campus venues so that we all can participate and perform to our fullest potential.
If you do encounter problems or bad behaviors, take advantage of the resources available through our Title IX (x3311), equal employment/affirmative action (x4350) and wellbeing offices (x3311), and report them through EthicsPoint , the General Counsel (x5237), Human Resources (x2514) or the Rice University Police Department (x6000).
We cannot control events outside our campus, and we ought to be especially concerned when demonstrations of hate and acts of violence spill into our communities and campuses. What we must do is to stand by our values and express our concern and empathy to others who are affected. We must take responsibility for our own actions to assure that we are not merely a vibrantly diverse community, but one that is known for the welcome and support we extend to all.
Last Monday, Ping and I hosted a barbecue dinner at our home for more than one thousand members of the entering class, the most diverse in our history. On Thursday we hosted our incredible new group of an equal number of graduate students. These joyful new students and our broader diverse community at Rice represent not merely the extraordinary potential for our university, but our opportunity to be an exemplary inclusive community. Let us in the wake of the terrible events at Charlottesville recommit ourselves to that aspiration.
Thank you for your dedication to the Rice community, and to the success of our university.
David W. Leebron
Rice's affirmative action policy and the Board of Trustees' resolutions supporting cultural inclusiveness are available at https://policy.rice.edu. If you feel you have been treated in a manner contrary to these policies, contact Russell Barnes, director of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity programs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.