|One week ago today, record numbers of American citizens exercised their right to be heard at the ballot box. The results point to historic firsts, including the highest voter turnout in more than a century, the first woman, first Black, and first South Asian Vice President-elect in US history, and more Republican women elected to Congress than ever before.|
While the procedural certification of the outcome, recounts, runoffs, and legal challenges are not yet behind us, what is clear is the challenging road ahead. In an environment that remains polarized, the question for us at the University of Miami now is this: How will we live out our values? How will we create an environment that empowers our students, faculty, and staff to become harbingers of solutions and unity in the face of complex and often divisive issues? How will our behavior summon what President Lincoln referred to as “the better angels of our nature”?
On the eve of Veterans Day, it is worth noting the powerful example set by those who defend the nation. Members of the military have often broken barriers and demonstrated courage both on and off the field of battle.
Late last week, following a number of incidents involving inappropriate behavior and hateful speech towards members of our community in person and online, I felt it was extremely important for me to meet with various student groups, which I did. First among them were our Student Veterans. I asked them—as I do each year—how we could help them overcome challenges. I then met with Black student leaders, who voiced their concerns, including a desire for added transparency in the way we address inequality on campus. I also met with student members of the LGBTQ+ community, who shared the perspective that open dialogue is essential to each and every ’Cane feeling safe, heard, and valued.
When we listen to others with openness, and attuned to common ground, we all gain. To that end, I am pleased to announce that we will begin a series of town hall-type events when we return for the Spring 2021 semester. Called Courageous Conversations, these gatherings will provide a forum for members of our campus community to engage regularly, rationally, and respectfully with fellow ’Canes to express ideas and concerns.
As I told the students I met with last week, the University does not tolerate hate speech or discriminatory behaviors toward members of the community. Period. I was appalled to learn that members of the same organization whose freedom of expression we defended in calling for mutual respect before the election were later found engaged in using precisely the kind of derogatory language that devalues and disrespects. We will investigate allegations of violations of our norms and sanction those found responsible. We will revisit policies. We will remain committed to respecting the right to disagree, but the U will never excuse incendiary or dehumanizing rhetoric or action.
This is not the first time the nation is divided. I strongly believe our community has the ability to come together, model civility, engage in respectful disagreement, and find common ground. The task before us is not easy, but as we have demonstrated in the face of crises time and again, ’Canes have the courage to do the right thing, even if it is the hard thing. I am committed to creating the conditions in which a culture of belonging, where everyone is valued and everyone adds value, can flourish on our campus. That way, we will all set an example for a world in need of healing.