At approximately noon on Monday, November 23, UR President Joel Seligman sent an email to UR students, faculty and staff. The email follows Friday’s student protest in which protesters gave Seligman a list of demands. “I cannot ignore evidence that our campus climate can be improved,” Seligman stated in the email.
The email stated that a campus-wide survey of faculty and staff will be conducted next semester to assess the current campus climate, and a Presidential Commission on Race and Diversity at the University of Rochester will be responsible for conducting town hall meetings and making assessments. The commission, according to Seligman, will specifically be charged with assessing UR’s current campus climate, what programs have strengthened this climate, what elements of campus life are inconsistent with a “healthiest campus climate” and will attempt to find ways to improve the UR community. Vice President, Senior Advisor to the President and University Dean Paul Burgett and Dean of the College Richard Feldman will chair the commission. Its first organizational meeting, according to the email, will be no later than December 4.
Regarding Yik Yak, Seligman stated, “I am not satisfied that Yik Yak has been sufficiently responsible in working with our university and other universities and colleges to address hate speech. I today am charging the University Commission on Race and Diversity to recommend by January 31st whether we should bar Yik Yak from use over University facilities. While no step that we can take to bar Yik Yak from use over University wireless networks will prevent users from sending or receiving messages through alternative means, our participation in the dissemination of hate speech is not required by the First Amendment. A university or college has a responsibility to create a safe and welcoming community for all of its members. The challenge here is to harmonize that responsibility with modern technology and freedom of expression.”
Additionally, Seligman stated that the implementation of “[the university’s bias related incident reporting] system” will occur no later than January 2016. The system is currently a subset of the university’s Critical Incident Report website.
The university, according to Seligman, will “address hate speech based on race” on par with the “It’s On Us” campaign, which attempted to raise awareness of sexual assault.
UR Vice President and General Counsel Gail Norris will review the Student Code of Conduct’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy. Feldman, according to the email, will review the third part of the students’ petition, which demands that the university “Increase Funding and Support of Underrepresented Minority Students and Departments,” and will discuss—with the students who presented Seligman the petition—further actions that the university can do.
“Words matter. They can wound. I urge those who are inclined to send this type of message in a public medium to bear in mind that ugliness begets more ugliness. This is not the climate in which we want to live,” Seligman wrote.