President Urgo Plans Forum on Racial Issues Next Semester

On November 21 a campus wide e-mail was sent out from President Urgo discussing an incident that occurred in the beginning of the semester. The incident involved the false accusation of an African-American student on campus by a Caucasian student and has lead to a discussion on race relations around campus. In response to this incident President Urgo stated in his e-mail that “Plans are underway for a president’s forum next semester, to discuss the state of racial and ethnic exchange on campus—as well as differences rooted in sexuality and disability.”

The forum will take place next semester and is currently being headed by Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Laura Bayless, and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Beth Rushing. According to President Urgo, Bayless and Rushing are currently, “putting together a planning committee of students, faculty, and staff [to head the forum].” While the forum will not be taking place this semester , it appears as though the forum will take place in either January or February of  2012 to coincide with the start of the Spring semester.

Though it may seem that the incident that occurred at the beginning of the semester prompted the forum, in reality it is a conversation that President Urgo believes the campus should have had some time ago. “It’s [a talk about diversity] has been thought about before. The legislation that started the school charges us with providing academic excellence for all and promoting cultural diversity. We are overdue [in] having talks about culture, race, and ethnicity on campus,” said Urgo. Not only is it his belief that these discussions have been overdue but also the belief of members of the campus community. “Students, staff members, and faculty are calling for it. I know it’s been talked about by BSU, Lenny Howard, and faculty with interest in this area,” said Urgo.

President Urgo believes that by having a more open form of discussion about cultural diversity and race on campus, all students will once again begin to feel part of the St. Mary’s community. “Some students report not feeling as at home on campus and some don’t see the big deal. Some students have never had to deal with that [feelings of discomfort], and others think about it all the time. Those are the two groups that need to talk to one another,” said Urgo.

Urgo Urges For Campus Civility

Dear St. Mary’s College Community:

In conversations with students, faculty, and staff over the last few weeks, a recurring theme of civility on campus has emerged. Simply put, the word on the banks of the St. Mary’s River is that people are becoming less nice.

I’m told there are fewer greetings on The Path and more ear buds cocooning playlists that have left their owners insulated from passers-by. There also seems to be a rise in mean-spiritedness. These issues are prickly because while we want everyone to be nice to one another, we all have the right to be asinine sometimes.

So, this message is not about being selfish or hoarding the jellybeans. That’s human nature. When I think of civility I think more of the work it takes to create, maintain, and participate in a community.

I am thinking more specifically about cleaning up after ourselves, holding the door for others, looking people in the eye, smiling, and (remember the old lesson?) treating others as you would want to be treated.

At college we study the best that’s been thought, said, created, imagined. That’s a high bar for behavior. Under observation, how will the critics assess our contribution? High quality? Worthy of national distribution? Or, destined for rubbish and not even recyclable?

I don’t think we need to be nice all the time. I agree with the idea articulated by Abbie Hoffman, a defendant from the Chicago Seven trial a generation ago:  “When decorum is repression, the only dignity free men [and women] have is to speak out.”

We always need space for dramatic articulation. At the same time, this is our home. Let’s not soil where we eat. Civility has its place in our learning environment as a key component in creating and maintaining our community.

As news about our institution is sent into cyberspace via YouTube videos, Tweets and Facebook pages, we all have a hand in shaping the content of OurTube. Let’s reflect on our interaction with others, just for a moment, and decide how we want St. Mary’s story to be told throughout the community, the state of Maryland, the country—and the world.

Joseph Urgo

President

St. Mary’s College of Maryland