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Set Condition Beige

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A Response to Texas State University President Dr. Denise Trauth.

Dr. Trauth,

In 1962, a group of student activists met in Port Huron, Michigan and drafted a statement which began, “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.”

Now, 54 years later, “uncomfortable” has been replaced with stronger words — words like “dread,” “fear,” and yes, even “terror.” After the results of the presidential election, many of us, even middle-aged white guys like me, have legitimate concerns about the safety of our friends of color. We’re concerned about the safety of our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters. We’re concerned about the well-being of our friends and family in the LGBTQ community. We have good reason to be.

I was a student at Texas State (then Southwest Texas State University) on September 11, 2001 and I absolutely remember what happened in the days after. I remember the doors of Muslim students being vandalized in ostensibly “safe” dorms. I remember my Muslim roommate, Abdullah, who was from Turkey, being afraid to go out to class. I remember hate — not unity.

When I returned in 2005, I have vivid memories of the 2008 election — particularly when on that historic election night someone asking me point-blank outside the 7/11 on Guadalupe Street if I had voted for “that n***er.” I remember that same word being shouted from down my street from a fraternity house that shall remain nameless.

It’s disconcerting to look back on those days as better ones, but here we are. And I bring this up to emphasize what’s going on is not a new phenomenon. If you think it is, you simply haven’t been paying attention.

Now, Texas State faces unprecedented challenges — ones of leadership, commitment to diversity and yes, even attacks on the fundamental open nature of the university itself.

Nobody can say you don’t do great things for our school. Under your management, fundraising has increased, as has our public image. But your response to the legitimate concerns of the students you’ve been entrusted to educate and protect is lacking in leadership, sincerity and action. There’s a difference between being a manager and being a leader. You are, unquestionably, a manager. Texas State needs a leader.

Nowhere in your thoroughly milquetoast reply did I feel you directly addressed the urgency of Texas State students and their needs. You state that you read, re-read and re-re-read. You say you tried to read between the words, many of which were critical. You say the accusations leveled at your hurt — and well they should. They were supposed to.

But is is simply impossible for myself and many others to believe one needs to go to such lengths to understand a problem as clear as a cloudless sky. The solutions you propose are not solutions. They’re just more of the same. The students know about Bobcat Bobbies. They know the police department is there. The crux here is you didn’t tell tell them anything they don’t already know. The students need firm assurances, not reminders.

It is also well and good you want to promote dialog, but aren’t we a little past talking here? To have a conversation implies legitimizing an argument, and while that might work in debate class, many students don’t want to talk to those actively practicing intimidation, both overt and subtle. There’s nothing to talk about. The students of Texas State should not be expected to break bread with these people, and I believe it is insulting that you should even suggest it.

But the most insulting part of your letter is when you try and cover your posterior by explaining the bind you’re in as a university president. Respectfully, the alums and students of Texas State who are concerned about their safety don’t care about your problems. The student body does not exist to worry about your problems. You exist to worry about theirs. That’s your job. That’s your responsibility. That is your duty.

Now is not the time for impartiality, because in the face of reckless hate there can be none. You simply cannot ride the proverbial fence. In doing so, you suppress the legitimate concerns of students while emboldening those threatening them by giving them a place at the table. They don’t deserve it. Not all points of view deserve debate. Some must simply be dismissed and scorned.

Across the country, university presidents are taking a stand. They are putting their careers on the line to do the right thing. In short, Dr. Trauth, they lead. You manage.

Now is the time for leadership at Texas State, and if you can’t provide that, I respectfully suggest and request you step aside for someone who will. For now, your statement, to slightly alter the Bard, is a tale of sound and no fury, signifying nothing but your desire to keep your job with the minimum amount of hassle.

You won’t get it. This is a time for hassle. This is a time to lead. Be brave. Be a leader. One day, there will be a reckoning for these times, and people will remember where others stood.

How do you wish to be remembered? Is it as a manager who tried futilely to keep things neutral — beige, if you will — or will it be as a leader who sees the true color of the times, looked hate in the eye and said in a firm and commanding voice “Not on my watch.”

You’ve written your answer, but time will determine what that answer is worth.

Sincerely,

Sean Wardwell

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