I am deeply concerned about the current state of intolerance and hostility
between a small, but vocal group, who believe UVM is an utterly racist
institution and the much larger community of whites and more moderate
people of color who disagree with this viewpoint. With few exceptions,
the people I hear from are no longer listening to the discussion on
UVMTODAY. Messages are deleted without being read. Many people are
afraid to speak up and challenge the radical assertions being made. Free
speech and intellectual debate are important aspects of the atmosphere at
UVM and any college or university. The silence from the majority of
people at UVM on the topic of racism and diversity is striking. Why the
fear about discussing these issues? Why have so many people shut down?
The answer is that they sense no room for a moderate position because they
will be labeled a racist or a pawn of the power structure at UVM if they
dont agree totally that the system is corrupt.
When I hear the stories about racist conduct in classes and in the
residence halls at UVM I am usually not surprised. Does racism exist at
UVM? Does racism exist in Vermont? Does racism exist in the Asian,
Black, Latino communities as well as among whites? Does it exist
everywhere in our country and world? The answer is a resounding yes!
Why should it be any different here? Are people of color the only group
that experiences discrimination based on appearance or stereotyping?
Absolutely not! Those that are overweight, disabled, homosexual, poor,
believers in non-mainstream religions, or considered ugly (in a society
that has defined beauty in a way that 98% of us can never obtain) know
otherwise. Does that mean we should give up and not work towards
fostering attitudes of tolerance, respect, and justice for all?
Absolutely not. However, I think it is time to take a step back and get
things in perspective before we damn the system and our leaders.
The leadership of the Commission on Racial Justice has made statements and
demands that are impossible for most of us to accept. All whites are
privileged. UVM is a racist institution. People who draw a paycheck from
UVM are loyal to the institution in a self-serving manner. They are
incapable of operating in the best interests of students. Acts of
vandalism and threats are not isolated incidents. The implication is that
there is widespread support for mistreatment of people of color. From
past experience working at Police Services, I can tell you that
harassment, threats, assaults, and even death threats occur throughout the
year in a quantity that would surprise most people. Most of these are not
against people of color. However, most of these incidents are not
publicized. This supports the conclusion that a group of people are being
The Commission on Racial Justice wanted complete autonomy to define the
Executive Officer's position, define the reporting structure of this
position (to themselves), and almost total control over the functioning
of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Everyone, including the
President, has people above them who in some way limit their freedom.
This is a function of a hierarchy and serves as a method of assuring
order and control. It is not a perfect system , and is often
frustrating, but it is common to virtually every department, group, or
organization at UVM. Sometimes you just have to work within the system
in which you find yourself and try to change it from within. One way to
do this is to recognize progress (however small), compromise, and accept
that people may share goals, but disagree about the methods to achieve
these goals. I dont recall hearing much in the way of affirmation,
willingness to compromise, or tolerance that it is possible to disagree
about methods from the recently dissolved Commission.
To look at another perspective, the Office of Multicultural Affairs has a
much larger budget than the Staff Council. The operating budget of the
Staff Council (what remains after salaries and benefits for two 75%
employees) is around $7,000. This amount funds an entity designed to
advocate and support almost 2,000 staff at UVM. Staff Council has a one
room office. Compare this with a much larger budget (perhaps someone can
quote the exact number) and suite of offices and common areas at OMA, an
organization that serves a much smaller number of people. The point I am
making is not that Staff Council is underfunded or that OMA is
overfunded. I simply want to point out that there are two sides to most
issues and that everything isn't terrible despite what you hear. In
light of the extreme position taken by the leaders of the Commission, its
dissolution was inevitable.
On Friday, I am told that a group of twenty-five prospective ALANA
students was confronted by a group of people who informed them that UVM
is a bad place for people of color. They were told of the Commission's
withdrawal from the search for the Executive Officer of Diversity. They
were told of the dissolution of the Commission on Racial Justice.
My understanding is that this group was composed of leaders of the ALANA
community who successfully advocated that the Student Government
Association not participate in the search for the new Executive Officer
for Diversity. How is this action helpful in the long term effort to
promote diversity at UVM? I doubt that any of these prospective students
live in a place not tainted by discrimination and bigotry. However, this
one-sided and negative perspective on UVM will certainly not encourage
high school students to come to UVM. I certainly wouldn't suggest we
mislead people into thinking that UVM is a pristine place free from crime
and racial injustice. However, this kind of activity undermines the
efforts to make UVM a more diverse, and intellectually stimulating
university. In most ways, UVM is a great place to study, work, and teach.
I expect some heat for these comments and opinions. Consequently, I
would like to point out that this message reflects my personal opinion.
I am not speaking on behalf of all staff in my role as Staff Council
President. However, many of these views have been confirmed by others in
private. I would encourage dialogue and hope that we can get to a point
when everyone will feel free to speak their mind and debate these
issues. This is the key to progress. Sometimes you have to take a stand
that is not politically correct.
Bill Bishop Fax: (802) 656-6550
University of Vermont
Transportation and Parking Services Phone: (802) 656-8787
622 Main Street
Burlington Vermont 05405 Internet: [log in to unmask]