A theme that I have come across lately is the idea of looking forward in order to move past an issue. I feel that looking forward or forward thinking is a good thing as long as the issue at hand has been addressed. Unfortunately, a lot of times, the concept of looking forward becomes PR speak for not actually addressing the issue but going back to the status quo.
The fall term at Oregon State University provides an example of this idea of doing nothing but saying that we are looking forward type of thinking. In the fall term, OSU’s community was focused on two separate racist incidents. A student wearing blackface was featured on the front of the campus newspaper (ensuing conversations, editorials, and Facebook groups underscored a campus climate that is not bereft of racism) and a noose was hung in the yard of an OSU fraternity. Both incidents received a lot of press and generated several meetings amongst campus community members. An official statement from President Ray was issued in November.
The first half of the statement focuses on the amount of media coverage that occurred in the fall term:
In recent weeks, The Oregonian and other media have carried coverage focusing on the campus climate at OSU regarding race, recent incidents regarding racial symbols and steps the university is taking to address these matters. We have long recognized the need to address such matters here at OSU.
The last paragraph of the statement really sums up my feelings on how the fall was addressed:
I do not want us to engage in a cyclical pattern of negative events, meaningful dialogues, and then business as usual. We have committed to look at the issues students raised and to make progress. The notion that nothing changes is simply not acceptable.
And then the fall term ended. People went on winter break and poof, the racist occurrences from the fall term seemed to have been swept under the rug at the front door of the capital campaign.
Near the end of winter term, an article titled, “A University Examines Underlying Problems After Racist Incidents” was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education on March 11th (my apologies for the lack of speediness with my post). [Full text].
The concept of looking ahead to the future rather than focusing on racist incidents is brought forth in the article:
Administrators at Oregon State, unlike their peers at many colleges, have taken the view that it would be a mistake for them to focus their energy on responding to various racist incidents. To make lasting progress in diminishing racism, they say, campus leaders must focus on promoting diversity in a forward-looking manner, between the controversies that erupt.
In what I feel is another part of the cyclical pattern of how incidents are handled at OSU, another statement was issued from the president’s office the same day as the Chronicle article was published. Statement issuing seems to occur in conjunction only when significant media coverage is present. The statement speaks of action “through ongoing dialogue, surveys, and other means to assess where we stand and what we must do to make real progress.”
I do not feel that we can look forward without addressing incidents like the ones that happened in the fall term. “Looking forward” becomes code for waiting until people are quiet again and the media has moved on to another story.