Welcome letter about diversity sparks backlash at Concordia

A letter to news students has touched off a bit of controversy at Concordia University in St. Paul.

The letter, from Cheryl Chatman, the dean of diversity at the university, invited students to an orientation session, making it clear that students of color were required to attend.

The website Inside Higher Ed says the letter sparked allegations of a segregated event.

Jeanine Flowers posted that part of the letter, writing, “I had to reread, wipe my eyes and have someone else read this to make sure I was reading this correctly.” In a subsequent post, after the Concordia administrator who wrote the letter reached out to her, Flowers wrote, “I told her there is a better way and how offensive that letter is not just to me, but a lot of people. Though her intent was not to segregate or isolate ‘people of color,’ that’s exactly what that letter did.”

Once Flowers shared the except from the letter, others objected as well.

One person wrote on Facebook: “Make this public and let the world school them why this is 1. Unnecessary 2. Unwanted 3. Discriminatory 4. Dumb!” Another person (whose comment drew praise) wrote: “Guess this is a class on how us po negroes should act in massas school.”

Chatman told the Star Tribune she doesn’t follow social media so she was taken aback by the controversy. She has since posted this to the university website:

Each year Concordia University, St. Paul’s Diversity Affairs Office sends out a letter inviting new students of color to attend an event where they can connect with various resources that our office provides as well as a chance to get to know one another. This is similar to activities held at many universities throughout the country during welcome week. A portion of the letter we sent out inviting students to attend this event was recently posted to social media by a student who indicated she felt offended and alienated by the letter. Immediately after this post was drawn to our attention, we responded and I was able to have a phone call with the concerned student. It is unfortunate that the letter was not shared in its entirety as the rest of the message highlighted the caring nature of our office and our community.

This letter was sent to invite our first year students to attend Concordia’s students of color meeting. At this meeting various clubs, organizations, and the Diversity Affairs Office are present to meet and get to know our students, their stories, and to share the opportunities for leadership and participation that we have throughout our community. Due to the importance of the meeting we indicated that attendance is expected in the hopes of getting students to attend something that may change their entire college experience in the midst of our busy Welcome Weekend activities. In the past, those who missed the meeting indicated they were not made aware of the resources of our diversity affairs office or the opportunity to connect with others through our clubs and organizations. The meeting is intended to be a welcome to campus where people make lifelong connections. We know that attending college comes with a lot of new experiences that are hard to deal with on your own, this is why we strongly encourage our students to attend.

Clearly our excitement to ensure that our students realized the importance of this meeting may have been interpreted as required or mandatory instead of warm and welcoming. We can adjust this for the future. We want to ensure you know that we value our students and this was not intended to make anyone feel alienated but welcome, as a vital part of our community. We also want to share the full text of the letter of welcome so that you can read it in its entirety. We appreciate our community voicing their concerns and asking us questions, this is how we learn and how we grow. If you have any questions at all regarding Concordia University, St. Paul’s Diversity Affairs Office or its various initiatives, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Sincerely,
Cheryl Chatman
Executive Vice President and Dean of Diversity Affairs