Social media vs. social responsibility: Are we agents of change?

by   Posted on April 26th, 2010 in Opinion

By Dr. Peter Stearns, Provost, Dr. Sandy Scherrens, Vice President University Life, Corey Jackson, Assistant to the President/Director of Office of Equity & Diversity Services

It is no secret that George Mason University benefits from our tremendous diversity within the student body. Although diversity is often characterized in terms of the legally protected categories — gender, disability, sexual orientation, race, age, national origin and religion — the diversity of thought that exists is also an important and essential component to our educational success. However, not everyone appreciates the diversity that exists at Mason.

Recently, there were some anonymous racist blog postings on a non-university website submitted by members of the Mason community as well as some homophobic graffiti scribbled on a wall in Thompson Hall. In a multicultural society, we can all expect to be offended at some point by the language and deeds of others. That fact, along with broad First Amendment protections within the U.S. Constitution, does not mean that our university should excuse or condone the anonymous rants solely intended to degrade a person or group of people.

Our community is smarter than that. Our community is stronger than that.

It would be easy to condemn the racist and homophobic language and actions by merely stating that their choices do not reflect the values and principles of our university. However, history has shown us that real change does not come from condemnation alone and hardly addresses the source of the problem. The Mason community must exercise community engagement through campus dialogues, taking advantage of multicultural trainings offered on campus, and, most importantly, exercising personal responsibility. As students, staff and faculty, we must look at ourselves and ask, “Am I an agent of change?” or “Am I just going through the motions because it doesn’t affect me?”

The true intentions of those who wrote the hate language will truly never be known because no one is accountable when the author’s name is Anonymous. The question then becomes, who are we as an institution? We must, as a university community, support an environment in which all of our students, faculty and staff thrive and interact with one another. Further, we must continue to educate our university community regarding how stereotypes and assumptions may harm individuals and affect how we treat one another.

Our mission as a first class university is to provide an excellent education that recognizes the importance of preparing diverse students, faculty and staff for full participation in a global society while preserving and perpetuating the free exchange of ideas.

Our university has a long history of celebrating the dignity, worth and contribution of our diverse communities. We examine and critique our difference through academic and co-curricular education. Mason has both Safe Zone and National Coalition Building Institute prejudice reduction-training teams, which offer opportunities to participate in dialogues that prepare our community to address stereotypes and other misinformation about our diversity.

The Office of Equity and Diversity Services (http://equity.gmu.edu) and other offices within University Life, such as the Office of Diversity Programs and Services, Multicultural Research and Resource Center and LGBTQ Resources are available for individuals seeking additional consultation, support and training resources (http://ulife.gmu.edu).

Finally, Mason’s Campus Climate Committee meets throughout the year to monitor and address challenging occurrences. You can contact Dr. Dennis Webster, the associate dean for University Life (dwebster@gmu.edu) to report additional information or similar concerns.

As reflected in the Mission Statement, George Mason University is committed to ensuring an environment that values diversity and promotes a culture of inclusion that extends to all members of the University community. We proudly work to make it happen, as we sustain a diverse educational environment where innovation is tradition.

Dr. Peter Stearns, Provost

Dr. Sandy Scherrens, Vice President University Life

Corey Jackson, Assistant to the President/Director of Office of Equity & Diversity Services



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