President's Commission on Diversity and Inclusion
The origins of the word “university” tell us much about what we are and what we should aspire to be. Unus in Latin meant “one,” and vertere meant “to turn.” To turn all things into one whole, to be a universe – that is what a university is.
All people should have a place in the world of the university: men and women, old and young, wealthy and impoverished, educated and not-yet educated; people of all races, all religions, all sexual orientations, all ethnic backgrounds, all physical abilities.
The first manifestations of what we today call the university, the philosophical ‘schools’ of ancient Greece, were not only places to learn, they were places where ethical models shaped the lives of teachers and students. So it is inherent in the very nature of a university that it aspire to teach its inhabitants to live considered and ethical lives.
At the very heart of the modern American university is the ideal of diversity. Different views will be accommodated and taught, different models of learning will be explored, different disciplines will order courses of study. But such difference is not limited to curriculum: even more important, the university will draw upon the remarkable and heterogeneous range of experience that is the hallmark of the United States and its citizenry.
It is essential that the modern university, and the University of Vermont in particular, not just reflect but embody the diversity that is the nation. Nor is diversity to be construed as a matter of race or gender or sexual orientation alone: there are a multitude of ways in which Americans differ, and all of them should be represented in the community that is the University of Vermont. Age, economic class, religion, linguistic history, national origin, physical abilities, social background are just some of the categories which refer to the fact that we are as our national motto has it, E pluribus unum: out of many, one.
It is of the highest importance that the University of Vermont embody the diversity that is America – and the world, since human existence does not stop at our national borders. To this end, every effort should be bent to enroll students, and to attract faculty and staff, who bring to the campus in Burlington the dazzlingly varied richness of the human world.
Unhappily, diversity has too often in recent years become a buzz-word, and it is important to note that merely intoning the word ‘diversity,’ as if it were a mantra, is insufficient. Not only must the University of Vermont continually strive to become a diverse community, it must privilege inclusion. For even if UVM were to become a statistical model of diversity, if the people who enter into the community were to be not full members of the community, the effort to diversify would be a failure.
Inclusion is, then, at least as important as diversity. And inclusion means that every person at UVM, be she or he a student, a teacher, or a member of the staff, is recognized as a valued member of the community. Each among us, in the university community, has full rights of personhood; each should live in the confident expectation that all other members of the community recognize their full personhood. Beyond recognition of this basic human right in a democratic society, an inclusive university actively welcomes and engages all members of the community to use their voices, experiences, and personal meanings to bring richness and justice to all activities in which the university community participates.
Thus, achieving a visible or statistical diversity is not sufficient. The University of Vermont should do whatever is necessary – policy formulation, education, allocation of resources, community dialogue – to ensure that inclusion is a reality of campus life. If there are those who do not wish to treat the differences of others with respect and with dignity, the University should ask them to remove themselves from the community. For, while UVM can and should encourage an almost infinite range of views, views and actions which diminish full community membership of any group or constituency cannot be honored. Inclusion is the fundamental cornerstones of the diverse just community the University is so deeply committed to fostering.