From President Finegold: Our Mission - Diversity

Dear Chatham Students, Faculty & Staff,

Welcome to the start of a new academic year, and a special welcome to those who are new to our Chatham community. The beginning of each new year on campus creates an opportunity for all of us to revisit and recommit ourselves to the mission and values of the University:

Our Mission
Chatham University prepares its students to build lives of purpose, value, and fulfilling work. Through professional skill development and liberal arts learning, Chatham prepares its graduates to be informed and engaged citizens in their communities; to recognize and respect diversity of culture, identity, and opinion; and to live sustainably.

Regardless of our individual backgrounds and how old or new to Chatham we are, this shared mission now connects us as members of one Chatham community.  In this spirit, I plan to share over the coming weeks some thoughts on what this statement of mission and values has meant, and still means, for Chatham.  I’m starting this series with the statement’s penultimate tenet: “to recognize and respect diversity of culture, identity & opinion.”

This statement goes to the heart of why Chatham was founded in 1869 (we will celebrate our 150th anniversary next year), which was to overcome a widespread discrimination of that time—women being denied access to quality higher education. Over the last 149 years, Chatham has served this mission by educating and empowering thousands of women who went on to transform their fields, communities and our society for the better. Today, women make up a significant majority of students in higher education; in this new context, we continue to honor and enhance our legacy by inviting all genders into an exploration of—and commitment to—furthering equity for all individuals in our society.

Even though Chatham was founded to expand educational diversity for women, the reality is that a college education in our country was still predominantly open only to white women and men at the time. In fact, only one African-American woman had graduated from college in the United States before Chatham’s founding (Mary Jane Patterson, a teacher, graduated from Oberlin College in 1862). Today, college campuses are far more open and diverse than 150 years ago; however, just over 1/3 of Latinx and Hispanic and 1/3 of Black 18- to 24-year olds are enrolled in higher education, compared to over 41% of white and 62% of Asian-American peers. We remain far from the goal of having truly equal access to quality education for all.                                 

At the same time, the recent one-year anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, along with reports of racial bias and intimidation on college campuses, and vitriolic speech on social media and in our political discourse all serve as a stark reminder that racial prejudice and divisions still plague our country. Locally, the tragic shooting (less than 10 miles from Chatham’s campus) this summer of 17-year-old Antwon Rose, and a new study released this week documenting the major racial disparities in school suspensions in Pittsburgh public schools, suggest these divisions are just as deep in our own city.  Chatham’s mission challenges us to recognize the profoundly negative impact that this environment has on all of us, but especially for individuals of color.

For this reason, we must work together to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all members of our community. Our community’s diversity—race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or disability—makes possible the richest learning environment. By recognizing and supporting the diversity among us, we can realize the full potential of this environment and work to find common ground, expand inclusion, and ensure that every individual feels welcome at Chatham. 

Living this tenet of our mission has led us to include diversity & inclusion as one of Chatham’s core values. It’s why we launched the Diversity & Inclusion Council with widespread involvement of students, staff, and faculty. It’s why we’ve created the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the PACE Center, the Multi-Faith Council, the Women’s Institute, Center for Women & Politics, Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, and the Diversity Dialogues series. It’s why we’ve joined the Presidents’Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. And it’s why we invited Dr. Jamie Washington to once again lead a conversation about race and identity for all incoming students, and asked him to return this fall to provide additional equity and inclusion training for faculty and staff.

We are under no illusions that these efforts have resolved all of our issues; instead, we see our efforts as part of a work in progress and part of a mission-driven commitment—a commitment that I invite each and every one of us to be a part of.  

Also vital to our efforts, is an understanding that true respect for diversity of identity and culture springs from a similarly honest commitment to the respect for diversity of opinion. We make our community stronger when we are open to listening and learning from one another’s perspectives, recognizing that sometimes these perspectives may conflict. Our mission challenges us not to silence ideas and opinions that we may find unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive, but rather to have what poet and activist Theo E.J. Wilson, calls “courageous conversations … with people who see the world differently than we do.”  To encourage such conversations at a time when society at-large is so divided and some discourse so destructive, I ask all members of our community to focus on maintaining a climate of mutual respect and acceptance on campus, with zero tolerance for hate speech or the inciting of violence.  In support of this aspect of our mission, Chatham has been working on a “Resolution on Freedom of Expression” that we will send to the Board of Trustees for adoption. We encourage you to review the draft resolution on My.Chatham.

If you have suggestions on how we can make Chatham an even more inclusive environment, or if there are issues you feel we need to address, please contact a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Council, those running any of the programs mentioned above, or send me an email or submit your input at Ask Dr. Finegold on Chatham’s website.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message and to engage with our mission during your time at Chatham. I look forward to sharing thoughts on other key aspects of our mission in future updates, and I wish all of you a great year.

Sincerely,

David Finegold
President

Chatham University