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Letter to Colleagues

Dear Colleagues

Last week was my first week at UWT in my new role as the Assistant Chancellor for Equity and Diversity. As you can imagine, the time went fast as I hurried to learn my way around and get to know as many of you as possible. I did have the good fortune to attend the South Puget Sound Higher Education Diversity Partnership Institute last week too. There I met many more people and learned something new about R&D. To me, R&D usually means Research and Development - a critical department in most competitive corporations. However, at the Diversity Partnership Institute, R&D stood for Respect and Dignity.

We say the words so often that they are almost trite, but it is important that we keep their meaning fresh in our minds and actions. Respect and Dignity require that we treat every person we encounter in a manner than honors humanity - our humanity. Yes, when we disrespect another person, we disrespect ourselves. When we belittle their capabilities, appearance, or experiences, we belittle our own. Each of us is unique and experiences life uniquely, even while we share common experiences. Our own unique qualities and life experiences are what comprise our diversity. Because each of us treasures our own unique qualities, we recognize that the unique qualities and experiences of every other person should be treasured.

In academia Respect and Dignity are affirmed in many organizational statements and policies. Nevertheless, in the academic culture Respect and Dignity generally are derived from hierarchical positions of authority and power, not from the value of each individual. This clash makes it difficult to consistently practice Respect and Dignity toward everyone. Yet, if we can not practice these twin behaviors with everyone we encounter, we are not honoring our humanity nor engaging in the best practices of teaching and learning.

When the pressures of the academic culture are combined with our stereotyped notions of people who appear different from us, or who have different life experiences than us, we can begin to fail in our ability to reach and teach others. As the changing demographics of today's world, and societal mores and laws prohibiting various types of discrimination bring us together in closer proximity, it is not unexpected that individuals could experience tensions and/or fear from new situations and expectations. One way humans attempt to overcome tension and fear is by exerting power or authority to control the situation. Then, rather than treating everyone as a unique part of our humanity, which requires us to engage in the development of a mutually beneficial relationship, we too often rely upon stereotyped notions of each other to lessen the tension and fear we feel. Yet, in our roles as teachers and students, leaders and citizens, we seek to build a better world - a world of peace and harmony, a world where every person can achieve his or her potential. The path to that world is built on R&D: Respect and Dignity for every human being.

Sharon Parker
Assistant Chancellor for Equity and Diversity

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