January 20, 2023

Dear Colleagues,

As we wrap up the first week of classes, and as I head into my last couple of weeks as interim president of CSU, I wanted to share a few thoughts about our community.

On a handful of occasions this past year, swastikas have been found drawn in places on campus. They were quickly removed, of course, and the anonymous perpetrators were never identified. Sadly, this is a fairly common occurrence in this country and elsewhere – people write hateful words and symbols in public places, or post them on social media, and leave others to pick up the pieces and try to heal the damage. I don’t pretend to know what motivates these people, but it can’t be disputed that such hateful expressions are rooted in the desire to intimidate, terrorize, and diminish others. So in a week that honors the birth of one of the greatest civil rights leaders in human history, I’m inclined to draw your attention to issues that divide us generally, and to the specific challenge of antisemitism in our community. (It’s a long message, but it’s important … so thanks for bearing with me.)

We strive to be an inclusive and welcoming campus to all, and our Principles of Community enunciate our values well in this regard. Unfortunately, too often society does not live up to our aspirations here, and we are not immune to the tensions that surround us and in which we are embedded.  A dismaying variety of challenges have been prominent in our national culture lately, and are top of mind for many. Entire cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, and religions are periodic targets of behavior that start in undercurrents with ridicule and fear, expand into visible and audible expressions of hate, and all too often lead to violence. These have come at us, nationally, in waves in our recent past. In the last few months alone, our Iranian students have dealt with a deadly crackdown on women’s rights and education in their country, LGBTQ+ people were slaughtered at a club in Colorado Springs, and a student of Asian descent at Indiana University was stabbed on a bus by a suspect whose stated motive was racism.  This is not a comprehensive list. These are only the recent examples that come to my mind – newspapers offer a seemingly endless report of others. The “isms” that divide us are with us, as a country, every single day, and they are reminders of the deep-rooted challenges we have to overcome in attempting to create a diverse, inclusive democracy where all are valued and able to live with dignity.

Antisemitism is its own distinct sector; but it often accompanies other forms, and both amplifies them, and is amplified by them. I take the opportunity to call your attention to it today for a couple of reasons.  First, although It’s not new (read the Old Testament), antisemitism is on the rise nationally, and there’s evidence of it increasing locally, too.  Second, we have taken some first steps in the past year to address antisemitism on our campus that you should be aware of.  And third, I’d hope that we can continue to take steps forward here in the near future, and for that all of us will need to contribute.

During President McConnell’s administration at CSU, she took several steps to improve the environment for our Jewish students, staff, and faculty.  A task force was charged with making several recommendations, and we have continued the work this year, and started with implementation.  A formal unit in our Office for Inclusive Excellence, the Jewish Inclusion Advisory Council has now been established to continue the work of the task force, and will be a resource for our entire community.  We are adding faculty expertise in Jewish Studies to our Department of Ethnic Studies; new courses and curricula are being developed and planned for, pending further investments.  We regularly engage with Hillel and Chabad, the Jewish student groups on campus, and we will look for ways to continue to support their activities, including the Holocaust Awareness events later this semester.  (If you have never attended that event, I can personally recommend it – a powerful remembrance of both tragedy, and triumph.)

Antisemitism appears in spoken and unspoken expressions – all the way from apparently minor, uninformed, thoughtless comments or images to chanting hate speech and using symbols of hate during white supremacy rallies, displaying swastikas, etc.  It may be difficult for some us to imagine how years of hurt and exhaustion can pile up when such things are regular events in one’s life, but for many people in our community, including all those who are targets of white supremacy, this hurt and exhaustion is just part of daily living. We ought to care about that, and to strive for better.

We are a public university and, as such, we are subject to the constraints of the First Amendment and are required by law to adhere to it. However, we can and should have a zero-tolerance policy for acts that are not protected by the First Amendment, for example, vandalism (e.g. graffiti) and criminal harassment. I will expect that going forward.

What else can we do, as individuals or as a campus?  Here are several ideas, though by no means an exhaustive list, of what you can do to help.

  • Realize that it starts with you. Look inside your own heart, and find those tendencies – we all have them – toward “othering” … toward viewing a person or group of people as alien to you, as lesser. Work to eliminate that, with whatever tools you may have, and seek to expand your toolkit when educational opportunities present themselves.
  • Realize that it doesn’t end with you.  We all may encounter “utterances of othering” in our weekly encounters on and off campus. Prepare yourself for how you might react – different situations require different responses. Sometimes, it is as simple as making a counter statement, letting people know you disagree. Sometimes, you have to be wary of putting yourself in the middle of a difficult situation, but you can look for ways to be a witness for community. The Office for Inclusive Excellence here at CSU offers useful educational resources on Bystander Intervention, as does the Women and Gender Advocacy Center. I encourage you to check them out.
  • Participate in programs that will support our Jewish students and colleagues as you are able, and take the opportunities that present themselves to make positive statements and take positive action.
  • Participate, as well, in other important opportunities to learn from and engage with those whose history is different from yours. February is Black History Month, and there is an excellent slate of programs planned at CSU. (It’s also a powerful reminder that Black and Jewish Americans have a long history of working together in the US to fight hate and discrimination – notably with Dr. King in the civil rights movement.)
  • Encourage our campus leaders to continue to be supportive of more institutional efforts as well. We’re listening!
  • Exercise the most important emotional muscle of empathy every day. Find a way to help someone else in any way, and where there is humanity, there is need. Ask yourself what you can give to the world – because striving to live a life with purpose beyond self is most beneficial to the giver.

I speak specifically to antisemitism here, but most of these suggestions apply more broadly, as well.  Let’s think carefully about these issues, and find ways to improve our campus and our city, to move toward the goal of eliminating antisemitism and all the other aspects of racism, sexism, and other -isms too numerous to mention. This is part of what it means for Rams to take care of Rams, and we all play a part. Thank you for listening!


Dr. Rick Miranda
Interim President
Professor of Mathematics