Dean Rameen Reflects on LTD

Dear Fellow Anteaters:

As I’m sure you are aware, the recent “blackface” video, produced by several members of the Lambda Theta Delta fraternity, has generated a great deal of disappointment, frustration and anger on the campus and beyond.
Campus offices, including Student Conduct and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD), have been looking into the incident to determine whether any campus policies or laws have been violated.
Lines of respect, inclusiveness and awareness have obviously been crossed, and even if the video was not intended to offend, it is offensive to our community and the values we represent and advocate.
Fortunately, the fraternity has taken full responsibility for the video, and has suspended its status as a recognized campus organization until the fall of 2014. The full statement can be found on the LTD Facebook page, and in part states,
“Our decision to suspend our status as a campus organization does not preclude us from our continued attempts to repair the harm that we created. We are committed to participating in campus-wide discussions with individuals and groups affected by our actions.
“In concert with many staff and students, we have started planning educational programs, community dialogues, and will avail ourselves of opportunities offered by the campus to educate ourselves on racial stereotypes and our responsibility to address racism in whatever form it takes.”
The strength of any community is tested by the trust we can and do have in each other to acknowledge, respect, understand and empathize with different ways of viewing and being part of our world.
There will always be failures along the way; at some point, each one of us will stumble in this regard and will hopefully make the choice to do better in the future.
While it is tempting to feel that these failures eclipse the good in our community, we should never allow our campus to be defined by these darker moments.
Instead, what reveals our true character is the way in which we heal — individually, restoratively and collectively — from these wounds. Lambda Theta Delta has committed themselves to stepping up; it is a rare act at an institution where a campus organization voluntarily suspends itself and publicly promises to seek out learning opportunities, regardless of any administrative action.
This, to me, is the kind of outcome we want as an educational community, and one to which we can all contribute.
Each of us have experiences to share, memories of being disrespected for who we are or of not giving that respect to someone else.
As a community, we must strive to stretch this learning moment. It is clear that members of our community are hurting from accumulated incidents of offensiveness. A number of programs have been and will be offered to expand our discussion of our values at our Student Affairs website.
No community is spared moments of ugliness, and the more diverse the community, the more mindful we all must be about maintaining our shared integrity.
Social media, with its sometimes volatile and evolving presence, has exponentially challenged our civility. Not every statement or photo on the Internet is actionable, even though it might be offensive. And free speech has its own costs when offensive ideas are not met with rigorous, informed rebuttal. It may feel like we are taking two steps back for every step forward, but we need to keep moving nonetheless.
Campus administration cannot, however, respond to acts of intolerance if we are not aware of them; therefore, if you have an incident to report, please submit a campus climate report form or contact the Office of Student Conduct or OEOD.
We have heard the protests and concerns of last week and will continue to listen openly and carefully as we move forward. I also invite any of you who would like to work with us or with our community as a whole to create more learning opportunities around awareness, respect and empathy. I am open to hearing your ideas and to working with you on behalf of our educational and ethical values.

Rameen Talesh is the Assistant Vice Chancellor, Student Life & Leadership and Dean of Students. He can be reached at rtalesh@uci.edu.