Meet the chancellor

Welcome to Illinois! Welcome to the home of the Orange and Blue! Welcome to a place of creativity and ideas, a place where you can be yourself—your best self.

With that goal in mind, as you begin your classes and activities I want to ask for your help in making Illinois the most inclusive and friendly university in the nation. I am sure you will agree that no one does their best work if he or she feels rejected, threatened or isolated. When that happens it creates a ripple effect across our campus.

As I wrote earlier this year on the heels of a spate of malicious vandalism directed toward a display of Native American public art on Nevada Street, what threatens one member of our community threatens all of us. Illinois has always stood for the respect and dignity of all people and thought. We are the home of the widest interpretation of free speech and expression. We are the home of spirited debate along the confines of respect and civility. But we do not tolerate acts of intimidation, violence or hate.

Here we welcome the individual. Here we respect differences. Here we practice the idea that every human life from every single country, state and county has equal value.

This is our very lifeblood. This is our DNA as a great public university. When our foundation as an inclusive and welcoming campus is threatened we need to unite as a community and collectively stand as one voice in condemnation. We have always done so in the past and we will do so in the future.

Two years ago I launched Inclusive Illinois: One Campus, Many Voices. (http://inclusiveillinois.illinois.edu/) This campus-wide program focuses on topical and compelling issues surrounding respect for oneself, respect for the rights of others, and respect for the values of the institution. Please check out the Web page and be sure to sign a personal or Organization/Unit Commitment Statement supporting Inclusive Illinois. We challenge students, faculty, and staff to engage in passionate, sometimes painful but always civil, discussions about the way we see others and how others see us.

Part of your responsibility as a member of the Illinois family is to join us in confronting critical issues by forging common ground among diverse perspectives. I strongly believe we should embrace the dissonance that will occur on a campus of many voices. We cannot be skittish in our efforts. Nor can we shy away from controversial topics. Indeed, our turning toward such topics will bring us strength as a community.

Former President Clinton, speaking on the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine’s courageous entrance into that city’s segregated Central High School in 1957 said, “The great question of the 21st century for this country is whether it will bring greater unity and progress toward the American dream in a much, much more interesting country, whether it will bring us closer to a global community, or whether it will see us break apart. Not just along the black-white color line, but shattered into hundreds of shards of stained glass.”

I have always felt that we have an obligation to explore and embrace the dissonance that can occur on a campus of many voices. I always ask, if not here, on the campus of one of the great public universities in the world, then where?

We may not always understand or agree with each other. In fact I can guarantee that we won’t, but in each instance when we try to listen and respect differing opinions we will come away a more united and inclusive campus.

Have a great semester.