The following is a message from TU President Gerard P. Clancy, M.D.:
Last evening, I sat down to dinner with TU’s senior student leaders. I asked them what would be the most important aspects of improvement for the university as we develop our five-year strategic plan. They advocated for greater investment in social justice and human rights advocacy and strong support of multiculturalism across campus. I could not agree more. I have been writing this letter in my head for several weeks, and my conversations with these students finally pushed me to put my thoughts in writing. This message is intended to thank you for your commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and to encourage you to help the broader community understand the importance of this commitment for the future of our city, our state and our nation.
We recently have seen incidents and legislative actions that attempt to intimidate particular members of our community. Tulsa’s Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, which serves multiple states, was vandalized. Legislation continues to be proposed that would remove basic rights of the LGBTQ community. Other legislation singles out particular religions. Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized, and synagogues have been threatened. None of this is acceptable, and it leads us to ask what can be done to improve understanding among those who reject inclusion for discrimination. During the past three months, I have witnessed inspiring people who give me hope that we can reach a better place.
Last week, I was hosted by the University of Virginia as a visiting professor. The history of the region is extraordinary. The Charlottesville area is the home of Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and James Madison. During my visit, I was drawn to consider once again the founding principles of our country. Jefferson was a founder of the University of Virginia and a principal author of the Declaration of Independence, which includes some of the most powerful words written in modern history, proclaiming that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (The failure of Jefferson and other slaveholders to live it fully makes the precept itself no less true.)
During my visit, it was clear that the Charlottesville and University of Virginia communities continue to struggle with the fact that throughout our country’s history and even today, the realization of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is not complete for every citizen of the United States. In Charlottesville, it started with the honest assessment of what is not right regarding everyone’s entitlement to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and now these honest conversations are evolving to correct what is not right.
The visit also reminded me of my six years of active duty in the U.S. Air Force and the additional 20 years as a Reservist in the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps. Each of those I served with in the Air Force was most proud of their duty to protect our freedom: freedom to express individual opinions and freedom to pursue “life, liberty and happiness.”
In January, Paula and I traveled to Jerusalem as we continue building a partnership with Hebrew University, the HARUV Institute and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation to prevent child maltreatment. Our hosts described great cooperation between Jews and Arabs. One of the most striking examples was our visit to Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem’s largest hospital, which is staffed equally by Jewish and Arab physicians, nurses and medical students.
When patients arrive for care, race and religion have no influence on which physician is assigned to that patient. The patients and the physicians know it; everyone, regardless of race or religion, cares for everyone, and it works. Imagine going to an emergency room in 2017 and having care withheld because your physician or nurse was not of your race, religion or sexual orientation. This visit highlighted that despite a deeply violent history, leaders from vastly different backgrounds can work together for the good of mankind.
These past few months have brought me lessons of hope and disappointment. We see others seeking to single out, intimidate and discriminate against members of our community. But when we honestly confront what is not right, we can move toward improving opportunities for all as each seeks life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And when the goal becomes the common good of mankind, we can get past a difficult history, look beyond varied backgrounds and work together.
I want to thank our student leaders for highlighting the importance of these subjects as we plan for the future. I also thank them for pushing me to share my thoughts. As our university moves forward, I will support and embrace diversity and inclusion regardless of religion, race or sexual orientation. I hope you join me.