"A Sustainable Environment without Sustainable People?" A Letter to Loyola University

5:20 PM



Dear Loyola,

I am writing you this letter because I left the University Senate meeting today feeling a bit bewildered by the conversations that took place. Particularly, I feel that every time we have a discussion on diversity in this body, the atmosphere becomes divisive. There is generally a sense in the air from certain members that we already do enough in this regard, and any suggestion to further diversity initiatives on campus becomes a hot issue of debate. This happened last year when we were discussing the need for a chief diversity officer and this year now in our discussion of a required course on diversity for undergraduate students.

Yet, my confusion really came to a head when the discussion on environmental sustainability began with little to no arguments against it. There was a sense of, “Absolutely, climate control is an important issue that all of our students, faculty, administrators, and staff should be aware of in order to continue our Jesuit mission.” Why is that? Why is it that we can discuss a sustainable planet with such calmness, and yet become so contentious when we’re discussing sustainable institutional practices for such a key issue as diversity?

Why do we not question a campus-wide discussion on climate control, but we have consistent rebuttals on diversity? Why does environmental sustainability seem to garner such support and enthusiasm from this body, but every diversity conversation seems bleak and heavy?

Today our presenter highlighted climate control as “necessary” for our students to go out and change the world. Why do we not have this same emphasis on matters of diversity and inclusion?

I thought perhaps these feelings were limited to the University Senate, until it was mentioned that all students are required to take a science course on environmental sustainability…and yet, at the mention of doing a required course on diversity, so many of the opinions expressed today suggested that it is unnecessary because diversity is talked about in a lot of the core courses anyway. This is where I was especially perplexed. Why is this? What message are we sending to our students and the world about what’s important to us? We can say that we are progressive because we are participating in a popular conversation that’s happening in the world about climate control. Yet, there’s little to no discussion happening campus-wide about minority teens being shot in the streets around the country, the hanging of a black man in Mississippi in 2015, the attack on Islam in this country, the video of young white Greeks proudly singing about n*ggers not being permitted into their fraternity, the debates across the country on same-sex marriage, the conversation that is still happening about wage inequality and gender discrimination…how can we sit back, or rest on our Jesuit name, without making a conscious effort, from the top down, from administrators to students, to say, “Hey, issues of diversity are important and necessary for us to discuss in order for our graduates to really go forth and set the world on fire?”

To this point, I feel that as a university, diversity is not clearly defined or clearly emphasized. In our public comments on climate control, one student mentioned with urgency that, “We need to be carbon neutral by a date. We want a firm commitment from this body on this issue.” I thought to myself, man, these students are speaking with such passion on this issue. And yet, I rarely hear such urgency, such direct resolve about issues of diversity here on campus. I believe the answer is more than just the need for a change in curriculum, but in the way we talk about diversity as an institution. For example, why does environmental awareness seem to permeate our university mindset (greener buildings, recycling, an office of sustainability, etc. which, in my opinion, are such visual things), but we leave diversity to linger on the outskirts, hoping that through a few public lectures or a belief that within our core curriculum, somewhere within any given course, diversity will be discussed in passing? This goes for diversity within staff and faculty as well. Diversity seems to be limited to an employee handbook or by the presence of a single minority faculty member within any given department.

I know that there is no direct way of answering these questions, but I did not want to let the moment pass by without voicing my frustrations about what I call “the diversity issue” that we have here on campus. Also, as a disclaimer, I am absolutely for the initiatives we are taking as an institution to create a more sustainable environment. I just hope that along with it, we are empowering sustainable people as well.

Thank you for your time and I hope you have a great weekend.

Best,
Pam

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