When, How, and Who to Respond to Insults in Our Environment

Sep 22 2016

Open Letter to the Editors of the Cavalier Daily

Dear Editors,

I am responding to the editorial in the Cavalier Daily Wednesday (9-21-16) about the racial slurs on the walls of Kent-Dabney dormitory. As yesterday's editorial stated, this egregious and hateful act is indeed appalling. We must rise as a community to repudiate such behavior each time it occurs. This is an obligation for all of us, and important for us not to wait for an institutional leader to frame every event. I applaud the Cavalier Daily for speaking out. I commend others in the Kent-Dabney immediate community for so eloquently responding as well. You can read some of their responses here.  

The editors also raise important questions about how and when to respond. It is a difficult question, but an important one to grapple with, as it is as clear as ever that despite the progress of so many great leaders of the civil rights movement of a previous generation, racism strongly persists in society. The vast majority of our community condemns such acts, and even while we hold hope for reducing their number, events such as this occur all too frequently and will until we ultimately achieve the culture and environment we value. To that end, a partnership of leaders and representatives from our community have been planning  for several months a charrette on culture and environment that will take place this Friday in Zehmer Hall. A charrette engages all constituencies (faculty, staff, students, administrators, surrounding community leaders, alumni, parents, etc.) in a design exercise to address a particular challenge, and delivers a small number of actionable items that all constituencies get behind.  It is not enough to give a list of recommendations to the administration; that all constituencies take ownership is important and powerful.

It seems appropriate that UVA would apply its strength in design thinking to such a challenge. I can’t predict what the outcome of the charrette will be, but I wouldn’t bet against this community’s conviction and ability to come together to move the needle, not just for UVA but for society more broadly.

Tom Katsouleas

Read this letter as it appeared in the Cavalier Daily on Sept. 22, 2016