Statement in Support of a Safer and More Welcoming KU
November 16, 2015
Dear members of the KU community:
The Department of Communication Studies stands in solidarity with KU students, staff, and faculty who have called for immediate action on and around our campus to address the racism and discrimination inflicted on members of our community because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and/or other identities. We are committed to working with these community members to create a safe and equitable educational environment for everyone.
While some might like to pretend that our nation is free of racism and discrimination, the evidence is clear that far too many people in our society continue to suffer both indignity and physical threat from their fellow citizens. At times, these acts of racism and discrimination can be egregious. From the shooting death of the unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to the mass shooting of nine African Americans meeting at church in Charleston, South Carolina, we have all seen that not everyone believes black lives matter. From the images of a professional football player punching his fiancée to the all too frequent sexual assaults on our nation’s college campuses, we have all seen that not everyone believes women deserve unquestioned respect. And from gay couples denied their constitutional right to marry in Rowan County, Kentucky, to a transgender woman, Keisha Jenkins, beaten and shot to death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we have all seen that not everyone believes all sexual orientations and gender identities are equal. In such a cultural climate, denials that racism and discrimination continue to permeate our society are deplorable.
Of course, not all forms of racism and discrimination are so outrageous. As scholars committed to the study of human communication, we are well aware that everyday words, gestures, and social interactions can also do serious damage. Commonly referred to as microaggressions, these seemingly innocuous moments of communication routinely insult and marginalize individuals and groups. Whether it is a group of young men referring to behavior deemed uncool as “gay” or a teacher turning to the lone minority student in a class expecting her to respond to a question about racism, these words and behaviors have negative consequences for the way people perceive themselves and their place in our community. While often unintentional, these microaggressions have no place at KU.
Unfortunately, as Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk and others have made abundantly clear, such behavior does happen here at KU and far too many of our students feel unwelcome. Through their protests, use of social media, and engagement in forums, these brave students have reported microaggressions inside and outside the classroom, explicitly racist and sexist language on campus, and even sexual assault and physical intimidation. Given such a reality, demands to better train everyone on campus to be more inclusive and to do more to hire diverse faculty and staff should be welcomed at KU, with one of its core values being to foster “a multicultural environment in which the dignity and rights of the individual are respected.” Indeed, such demands are most certainly welcome in the Department of Communication Studies, where we continue to work on hiring for diversity, recruiting and retaining minority students, and training our faculty, staff and students to be more inclusive and respectful.
Therefore, we join our fellow students, staff, and faculty in calling on the University of Kansas’ administration and governance to act swiftly and deliberately in addressing the racism and discrimination on and around our campus. As a department, we are listening intently to the concerns of those who have been marginalized and are working on doing everything we can to ensure that all the undergraduate and graduate students who attend any of our classes or departmental events find a safe and welcoming environment. And we stand ready to assist others in helping to fight and eradicate racism and discrimination. Through the power of intentional dialogue and open communication, we believe that we can all, even those just now coming to realize the severity of this problem and their own role in it, work together toward making the University of Kansas a model for the inclusivity and acceptance of all people.
Why Communication Studies?
Communication Studies has been at the heart of the Liberal Arts since the beginning of higher education in the West some 2,500 years ago. When the Greeks began studying the Liberal Arts, the very first subject that they focused on was rhetoric, what we now would call communication. They began with the study of communication because they knew that when people exist in a community of any kind, the three most basic skills that they need are the ability to listen to what someone else says and judge whether their comments are sensible and to devise a response. What was true 2,500 years ago is still true today.
The Communication Studies Department at KU has a long history of excellence in teaching and research. Communication Studies faculty members have been recognized many times as among the best teachers in the university. And faculty have national and international reputations as scholars in diverse areas of communication studies.
The department is the host of the KU Debate program, a program that's consistently ranked among the five best programs in the nation, along with schools like Dartmouth and Harvard. The program also hosts the inter-disciplinary leadership studies minor because of the centrality of communication to leadership activities.