Message from Provost Ellen Junn

December 2, 2013

Dear Colleagues,

Over the last week, our campus community has struggled to understand the deplorable events that allegedly occurred in Campus Village student housing this fall. As we learned more about the experiences of the student, the roles some of his suitemates may have played, and the failure of the institution to protect that student, we have been shocked, angered, and deeply saddened. We collectively wondered, “How could this have happened here?” It is likely that a full understanding of what happened, when it happened, and who knew about the events will take some time. It also is likely that the campus will need to adopt an array of solutions, both short and long term, to cope with the current situation and prevent such events in the future from occurring again. An independent investigator and task force will be appointed soon to assist us.

However, the community cannot wait for official reports to be finalized before student concerns are addressed and confusion is resolved. In these moments of uncertainty, faculty members must step forward as teachers and role models to lead and take this opportunity to engage with, listen to, and educate our students in safe, constructive, meaningful and inclusive ways. For now, we know from the police report that an African American freshman living with seven suitemates in Campus Village was victimized, possibly from the time the young men moved into the dorms in August through October when residence hall staff members alerted the University Police Department. These incidents included securing a U-shaped bike lock around the victim’s neck, hanging a Confederate flag in their suite, and nicknaming the victim “Three-fifths,” referring to the way the government once counted African Americans as a fraction of a person. Within 48 hours of learning of these events, housing relocated two suspects to single rooms and UPD (University Police Department) launched an investigation. The police completed their report in late October and recommended the district attorney file misdemeanor battery charges with a hate-crime enhancement. In keeping with standard practice and allowing for due process, SJSU suspended all four suspects on an interim basis, pending the outcome of the student conduct process.

As we head into finals, students and their families need to be reassured that the acts of one group of students do not represent the beliefs and values of our community. Faculty members who work with students every day are often the best equipped to help students make sense of these events and reassure them that SJSU is a safe place that does not tolerate bias or bigotry and indeed strongly supports, validates and celebrates diversity of every kind. 

How might faculty members do this? For one, faculty members can take time during their classes to discuss the event. One of our university learning goals is that students gain “the ability to act intentionally and ethically to address…problems in an informed manner with a multicultural and historical perspective and a clear understanding of societal and civic responsibilities.” Taking some time in all classes would reinforce to students how much SJSU values informed and ethical behavior. Such a discussion could begin by asking students what they know, providing students with additional information, letting them know that abusive behaviors are not acceptable or appropriate under any conditions, and giving students more information for where they might go to get help or report incidents.

Here are four important campus resources. Many of you may be familiar with (1) Spartan Connect, an online referral service for faculty members with concerns about a specific student. We normally use this service for academic issues, but we will expand its application to this situation. Additional resources for students who see or are subject to abusive or other inappropriate behaviors include: (2) Counseling Services, (3) Spartans for Safety, and the (4) University Police Department. You or your students can report concerns to UPD by calling (408-924-2222) or by using UPD’s anonymous service, TipNow (408-337-2919). It is important to note that you are not committing a student privacy (or FERPA) violation when you share your concerns about a student’s welfare with other university personnel.

We have much to be thankful for on this strong campus. We have talented, hardworking faculty and staff members and wonderful students. We trust in our faculty and staff and we know that in the face of many challenges, our community of educators has supported one another and served our students well. Together, we call upon our community to recommit even more passionately to our shared goal of affirming and celebrating diversity as reflected in the historic speech of our library’s namesake, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education…I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character…Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Thank you for your dedication and for joining with the campus in maintaining an open dialogue to deepen our combined commitment to diversity, inclusion and respect for all.

Sincerely,
Ellen Junn, Provost
Andy Feinstein, Deputy Provost