Creating equitable and empowering environments for all

Published July 19, 2023

Dear Beach Community,

As we continue implementing our Beach 2030 vision to create empowering environments for all, I issue a challenge to each of you and to myself. This challenge is inspired by findings from the recently released external audit of the CSU system related to the handling of Title IX infractions.

The report (informally called the Cozen Report) is largely complimentary of the Title IX work being done at CSULB. The assessment team suggested that we add staff and better coordinate existing education, prevention, and compliance structures and processes associated with instances of sexual harassment/assault, domestic violence, stalking, and other forms of misconduct based on protected classes.

The report revealed, however, that some members of our staff, faculty, and student body believe they are affected by bullying, rudeness, demeaning comments, raised voices, hostile teasing, rumor spreading, and so on. While some of these behaviors may not be illegal, they do affect our colleagues’ quality of life – both personal and professional. They are barriers to reaching our Beach 2030 goals.

My challenge to all of us is to eliminate these behaviors of concern from our campus. This will require us to commit to personal reflection and to an openness to feedback from supervisors and colleagues.

Our context as a U.S. public higher education institution makes eliminating behaviors of concern difficult. Freedom of speech is a constitutional right that we must protect for every group except in cases of incitement to violence. We have the right to say a lot of things. I’m asking that we think before we speak and judge if the comment adds to or subtracts from an empowering climate for others.

In addition, our privilege of academic freedom must be guarded. It is the basis for scholarly progress. Yet, our own CSULB policy holds faculty to higher standards of behavior than are expected of the public.

In 2000, our Academic Senate affirmed a commitment to a 1987 policy adapted from the Statement on Professional Ethics of the American Association of University Professors. While this statement was created to guide the behavior of professors, I see parts of it as applicable to our entire community.

Among other expectations, the Statement demands that we treat others with unfailing respect as we teach, advise, counsel, debate, and work with each other. Of course, we must avoid any exploitation, harassment, and discrimination, but we can also avoid interpersonal exchanges marred by micro-aggressions, expletives, and rudeness. As members of an academic community, we can be models of communication that reflect empathy, compassion, and truthfulness.

Of course, we do not have and will never have “speech police” at The Beach. We do, however, have each other. Every supervisor, department chair, director, dean, vice president, and peer should feel empowered to offer guidance/feedback, with no fear of retaliation, to any member of the community who displays bullying, disrespectful, or demeaning behaviors to others.

It’s important to note that no one can be or should expect to be protected from feeling uncomfortable at times with topics, events, or conversations that occur in our academy. The basis of the academy is to push novel ideas, explore uncharted areas, and disrupt formerly accepted orthodoxies with compelling evidence. All of this can be disorienting to personal belief systems. As a university, we have the mission to entertain a universe of ideas and perspectives. Not all will be popular. Some will be abhorrent. That’s the blessing and the burden of free speech at a public university.

In addition, the best relationships are built on grace. We must give leeway to others who may be struggling with unknown burdens that affect their levels of patience or drain their energy away from self-reflection. In other words, it’s best if we don’t take offense at every possible communication misstep. “Gotcha” relationships are not productive.

We can create a culture of thriving by treating others in the same way we expect to be treated. We all have blind spots, however. In other words, we don’t always know the effect that our words have on others. We must welcome feedback that enables us to promote empowerment and reduce distress.

I am not asking for us all just to be “nice” to one another. We should challenge, argue, analyze, or critique others’ ideas, work products, or research findings. Intense conversations about ideas can be the basis of learning. We can have such discussions, however, without ad hominem attacks or demeaning or dismissive language.

As we do regular assessments of our campus climate, I look forward to celebrating data that illustrate we are progressing toward our goal of creating equitable and empowering environments. These will promote success for all. Thank you, in advance, for working together to create a better Beach.

Jane Close Conoley, Ph.D.