We are a caring community, yet we have work to do

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fellow Mountaineers:

I write you today reflecting on Monday’s Annual Walk for Awareness, which began on our campus 24 years ago after Jeni Gray, an Appalachian staff member was abducted and murdered, and a few days later, Leigh Cooper Wallace, an Appalachian student, escaped the same attacker after being abducted and raped. At the walk Monday night, we reflected on Leigh Cooper Wallace and her courage, strength and the influence she had on this community. We also talked about the recent allegations of sexual assault affecting our campus, and about how Leigh’s legacy of standing strong as a survivor of sexual assault has inspired countless others to also stand strong. Our principle of “It’s Up To Me” was referenced in many ways, and it highlights how we all play a role in eliminating violence from our community. Our Chancellor challenged us to put the words “It’s Up To Me” in our hearts and take action.

I am also reflecting on a recent tweet by one of our students that used a racial slur referencing our guests from North Carolina A&T last weekend. This tweet, which was sent out Saturday night, degraded the members of the North Carolina A&T community, and was disrespectful to Appalachian and our community. The sentiment expressed by this student is not reflective of Appalachian State University and what it means to be a Mountaineer. It is not reflective of the spirit of our founders, the Dougherty Brothers, and their mission to make a difference in Western North Carolina. It is not reflective of the spirit of so many who work each day on the campuses of Appalachian and North Carolina A&T to educate, serve and prepare students for today’s world. It is not reflective of who we are and should be as people.

I am struggling to balance the contributions of Leigh Cooper Wallace and so many other students who have helped build and preserve a caring community, versus the recent expressions of violence and racism, which take so much away.

We all contribute or take away from this environment every day by our actions and our words. Our actions and words matter, which is why, as our Chancellor so passionately expressed, we need to put these words in our hearts and understand “It Is Up to Me.” It is up to each of us to help move forward from acts of violence and insensitivity.

As was stated many times at the Walk for Awareness Monday night, we have work to do. Maintaining our caring culture requires each member of our community to actively engage in finding solutions to the challenges we face. I am committed to working to find meaningful solutions to these challenges. Do your part as well. Think about how you are treating others with your actions and words. Take time to be involved in organizations, discussions, events and people who contribute in positive ways to you as a person, and to this community as a whole. Remember to Be Aware. Ask and Listen. Have a Plan. And if you See (or hear) Something… Say Something.

I have used this quote before and I am sure you have seen it in a variety of contexts, but it rings true to me today.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Working together, we can and will ensure this is a welcoming place to everyone and hostile to no one. Working together, we can make our campus and community even greater than the great place we know it to be.

Proud to be your Dean of Students,
JJ Brown