In light of the situation at the University of Missouri and other campuses, President Danko issued this statement:
Dear Butler Community Members,
Earlier this year, I spoke out against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). This act uniquely damaged the spirit and global reputation of the Hoosier State. Its discriminatory agenda directly contradicted Butler’s values of fairness and inclusivity, and I felt compelled to publicly comment in that case in the hope of inspiring action and dialogue.
Similarly, I feel compelled to share my thoughts with you now about the changes taking place at the University of Missouri and other campuses across the country this week. The aspiration of students at these institutions is that which forms the heart of Butler University’s founding and current values: the realization of a just society, in which all people are respected and valued equally.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to our campus in 2013 and spoke to us about peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation when we opened a Center in his name. As members of a learning environment that values critical inquiry, we recognize that his message of compassion and humanity rings true. At the same time, we realize that social justice is the cornerstone of peace.
The United States grapples with a history of discrimination and oppression. Today, college students across the country continue to live with the very real consequences of that history. Despite the progress we have made as a great nation, we have much work to do to become a truly just society. As our country continues to struggle to address injustice, it is incumbent upon us, as Butler University community members, to be leaders of dialogue, pathfinders to solutions, and models of civility. This leadership can be assumed by any and all of us, including faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
Our Butler values put us in a strong position to assume such leadership. Butler was founded by abolitionists who wrote into our University charter that we would be “a non-sectarian institution free from the taint of slavery.” Gertrude Mahorney, Butler’s first African-American graduate, earned her bachelor’s degree in 1887. Sigma Gamma Rho was founded on Butler’s campus in 1922. Butler was the first college in Indiana to admit women and men on an equal basis, and established the first endowed chair in the nation specifically designated to be filled by a female professor.
I do not cite these facts to encourage us to rest on our laurels; rather, I believe we should be inspired by our shared history of, and commitment to, social justice and the eradication of discrimination in its many forms, both insidious and overt. I challenge all of us to recommit to our founding vision. I challenge us to strive, each day, to more fully understand each other’s experiences. I challenge us to find positive and constructive ways for Butler to be a national leader in finding real solutions to these long-standing issues.
I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Provost Kathryn Morris, Vice President Levester Johnson, and Associate Professor Terri Jett, Special Assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusivity, who are leading concerted efforts to ensure that our community is a just, fair, and safe place in which all people may thrive equally. We are also extremely fortunate to have many other faculty members with expertise in social justice issues, who are working extremely hard toward this goal. Most importantly, our students are engaged in a wide range of social-justice initiatives, both at the curricular and extracurricular level, which empower them to effect positive change and make a real difference.
While all these activities are extremely important, I believe we can work even harder, and do even more, to live our founding Butler mission each day. Please join me in redoubling our efforts to that end, in support of the rights of every person—in our own learning community and in those across our nation—to feel safe, valued, and celebrated.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions.
James M. Danko, President