Chair statement: There Will be Real Change

Posted: June 8, 2020

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Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty, 

I am deeply saddened by what’s going on in our country. I am deeply saddened by the brutality and injustices that our citizens of color, including our students, staff, and faculty, have to put up with.

I am so sorry for not writing to you earlier. I share your feelings of pain and frustration, and I also felt paralyzed by a profound sense of helplessness. I was struggling to find my voice. I did not want this to be a case of saying the right thing and doing nothing. I wanted to write with a purpose. This purpose is precisely what our students articulated during the Friday dialogue with the College: there is so much more we can do to bring a sense of inclusion and fairness to our own little corner of the world. I could not be more proud of our student leaders for their courage and eloquence. You are an inspiration to us all.

Since I started my service as the chair of our department, I have made it one of my top priorities to create an inclusive and supportive culture for all students, staff, and faculty. I thought I was doing my best, but now I realize that much more needs to be done. I thought that thoughtfulness and patience were the best approach to overcome the resistance to change, but now I realize that patience can be a form of complacency. 

I promise to demand and strive for immediate change at all levels-- real change that touches the lives of all our students, staff, and faculty. No student should feel excluded because of our far from perfect culture. No student should be prevented from reaching their potential because of our failure to give them the support they need. No student should be led to decide not to pursue Engineering because of our failure to welcome them to our discipline. No student, staff, or faculty should ever feel slighted or discriminated against because of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, orientation, or any other aspect of their identity. These guiding principles are the foundation of our culture at its best, and I am committed to ensuring that they will be reflected immediately in all our actions, decisions, and policies. 

I truly believe that the overwhelming majority of our faculty, staff, and students are good people, but, like me, what they are doing to create an inclusive and supportive culture is far from enough. For some it may be because of lack of awareness or understanding, while for others it could be due to lack of resources, empowerment, or support. I can help them make things better, and I promise I will. From now on, we will also prioritize streamlining and simplifying the process of enforcing our zero-tolerance policy against racism and all forms of discrimination. 

I will need your guidance as we move forward, and I will reach out to listen and learn. Our recent student feedback provides a solid starting point for action and we will form an inclusive focus group to follow-up and ensure progress is being made. As a first action item inspired by your ideas, I will collaborate with a few of our distinguished faculty on creating a new course discussing how our discipline can play a meaningful role in achieving racial justice and addressing other major societal challenges. I will aim to offer this course starting from the coming academic year.

I am committed to turning this moment of deep sadness in our lives into a platform for a better and more inclusive future, one where everyone is deeply respected. I am committed to accelerating our progress towards realizing our vision of “being an exemplar of wellness where all students, staff, and faculty achieve creative excellence in a joyful, healthy, and inclusive environment.” I am committed to being there for each and every one of you to listen, support, mentor, and help in any way I can. 

I realize that this note is far from perfect, but I can assure you that it is authentic. I know that my words are not nearly sufficient to address the profound pain and sadness that many of you are experiencing right now. I fully intend for our collective action to rise to the level of the challenge we are facing. 

To ensure transparency and sustainability, you will receive a monthly update outlining the concrete actions the department is taking to prioritize our mission of inclusivity, diversity, and equity. Our first monthly update will include more details about the new course and other action items we are developing now. 

I hope that each one of you will choose to join this journey and we can hold each other accountable for progress as we move forward.  

We will do better.

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Hesham El Gamal

Professor and Chair

ECE Department

The Ohio State University