Post election thoughts

by President Steve Thorsett,


Dear Willamette community,

As we continue to process the strong emotions and reactions to the election that brought an end to an unusually bitter and partisan campaign, I want to thank the many members of this community for the support that you have given each other, and for the conversations that have been initiated in many different forums and that I know will continue in the days and weeks ahead.

I want to share some thoughts, to amplify on yesterday's message from Chaplain Wood.

We are a diverse community in every respect, including political persuasion, but one thing that all of us should recognize is that there are many among us who are deeply unsettled this week and feeling vulnerable and even frightened. I want to unequivocally state that Willamette is a university committed to equity and inclusion, which seeks to make all feel safe and welcome. In recent years we have made real progress in our support of students who have been historically marginalized, including adding support staff, modifying facilities (such as the addition of gender-neutral restrooms), and changing our financial aid policy for undocumented students. I am deeply committed, as is every member of the senior leadership team (and I hope every other employee), to preserving this progress and continuing to extend our work on equity and inclusion, for both students and staff, and I encourage you to reach out to any of us if you have concerns, or to reach out through formal channels like the Chaplain's Office, Bishop Wellness, and the Employee Assistance Program.

I want to emphasize, however, that while the administration and faculty can provide structures to support a welcoming and inclusive climate, it is the job of everyone at Willamette to make that ideal a reality. Our standards of conduct define what we can do, not what we should do. At a time when many of us are under stress and feeling vulnerable, I want to ask every member of the Willamette community to respond with empathy and generosity. I was deeply dismayed this year to watch the seeming fracturing of American society, starting in the primary season, with the "othering" of the opposition leading to a level of incivility and at times aggression that I have not seen in politics in my lifetime. We must do better.

Professor Mary James, the Dean of Institutional Diversity at Reed, reminded me recently of both the importance and the challenge of building inclusive communities on our campuses. It is a heavy lift, she said, to do something that is not yet done well anywhere else in society.

I ask today not that we put away our differences, or pretend that this wasn't a historic election result that is welcome to some and deeply troubling for others. I ask instead that we commit ourselves, despite those differences, to contributing our strength to Professor James's "heavy lift." Reach out to those in need. Take care of each other, as well as yourselves. Dedicate yourselves to making at Willamette the kind of community that shows others that equity and inclusion are not just desirable, but possible.

Thanks for your patience with this long message. I have office hours tomorrow, Friday, at 11:30am-12:30pm, and would be happy to talk with anyone about the events of the week and about your concerns. Chaplain Wood will also be available during that hour on Fifth Waller for drop-in visits.

Non nobis solum nati sumus,

Steve Thorsett

Willamette University

University Communications

Waller Hall, Fourth Floor
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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