Members of the Student Body,
I address you today concerning the decision regarding Mr. Gary Shank. In the days leading up to the release of this decision, I saw and heard your pain and outrage. As president of the Student Government Association, it is my responsibility to ensure that all students feel represented and heard at this university. That is why this past Friday, Feb. 12th, I went before the University Board of Governors to express the students’ distress. The following highlights several points I addressed.
First, however unpleasant it is, we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted across America. It is much more wide-spread than is often apparent. Second, that the university’s Action Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion has experienced “white backlash.” This is a concept in which positive steps forward were taken on the question of racial justice and equality, but then certain backward steps were made at the same time. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the greatest obstacle to overcoming racism in America is those who like to say they are committed to racial equality and justice but quietly slip into silence and complacency when the fight for racial justice requires real action.
It is the belief of some that this decision makes clear that conduct of this sort is not acceptable or tolerated in any context and will be subject to immediate termination. But that is not what this decision does. This decision makes clear that conduct of this sort is acceptable and you will not be subject to immediate termination but rather remedial diversity training. This opens the door for other slurs such as LGBTQIA+ slurs, ethnic slurs, and religious slurs.
We need to take proactive action on behalf of justice and push for the changes that will have the greatest impact on our students, both now and in the future. We must move to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
That is why the Student Government Association is taking action by calling upon the Faculty Senate to make specific changes to ensure that this type of conduct does not happen again. We, the 49th Senate and Executive Board of SGA on behalf of the entire student body of Duquesne University urge the Faculty Senate to revise the Faculty Handbook on multiple fronts.
First, the Faculty Handbook must be revised to make clear that this type of conduct by a faculty member will be condemned. Conduct that disregards and harms students through inappropriate words or actions that display discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, disability and/or genetic information will warrant the strongest possible sanctions, including termination from tenure-track or tenured faculty positions. Second, the Faculty Handbook must be revised to ensure that the Faculty Grievance Committee houses greater diversity in its membership. Finally, the Faculty Handbook must be revised to mandate that the Faculty Grievance Committee consults with appropriate experts in the campus community, particularly when disciplinary hearings involve accusations of discrimination, to ensure committee members have all the facts and evidence surrounding the circumstance.
Furthermore, according to student testimony that I and others have received, this was not Mr. Shank’s first offense and thus cannot be labeled as “a moment of extremely poor judgment.” However, the Faculty Grievance Committee cited that there were no other “officially reported” instances regarding Mr. Shank. That my colleagues, ends today. If you see misconduct, if you hear misconduct, if you experience misconduct – Report it! Granted, there is currently no official portal for students to anonymously report these instances; however, SGA is beginning to work with key stakeholders to make this procedure possible. In the meantime, I would encourage all of you to file reports directly with the dean of your school or college.
The time is always right to do right. That time is now. Now let the message of this university be one of commitment, hope, and solidarity with our students. In doing so, the mission of the university will be fulfilled.
Kallie Crawford, President