Dear Faculty, Staff, Alumni and Friends,
This month, our College has launched an exciting and, I hope, thought-provoking and restorative initiative called Clemson Conversations on Race and Reconciliation. The concept began taking shape for me about a year ago, even before my official start as Dean on July 1, 2020. But COVID put a stop to the most important part, which is for the participants to talk to each other face to face. Something we all took for granted not so long ago.
The impulse that led me to the basic idea of the conversations series is that I have been increasingly dismayed not only at the growing divide and the accompanying tensions we see in this country, everywhere we look, but at the absence of any dialogue that might resolve anything. We seem to have lost the art of constructive talking and listening, where people with differing points of view actually sit together and communicate with each other. Being respectful and not judgmental. Admittedly, Clemson is only one very small corner of this country, but my hope for the Clemson Conversations initiative is that we can find our way to listening, hearing, understanding, and, yes, work toward reconciliation. How can we possibly move forward together and solve the many problems we face without it?
In the Fall, I met with several student groups in the College, all addressing issues in their own way. There is cNOMAS in Architecture, the WeCU initiative coming out of Performing Arts, and the Call My Name Student Advisory Board, just to name three. In December and January, I met with leaders from all of these separate initiatives to form a College Inclusion Council. At first there were six undergraduates, joined later this semester by four graduate students, including Kaitlyn Samons, President of the Clemson Graduate Student Government. We are working together to help consolidate and amplify what is already underway in the College. I hope very much that this can continue and be formalized next year.
The roll-out of vaccines and the arrival of warmer weather, permitting outside gathering, finally allowed us to make a start on the Conversations initiative. First was a joint event on April 7 at the Owen Pavilion that capped a year-long Architecture series, organized by Assistant Professor of Architecture Andreea Mihalache, called “Design, Race, and Social (In)Justice.” At the event, a panel of eight speakers gathered to talk about issues moderated by Professors Mihalache and Ray Huff from our Charleston campus.
This will be followed on April 15 with a panel of seven students, faculty and staff, again at the Owen Pavilion, talking about “Clemson Family?” and moderated by yours truly. The topic was prompted by several comments I heard last summer in response to the events happening around our nation in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resulting tensions. Many students and faculty remarked that, while the concept of the Clemson family is referenced frequently, they had never felt as though they were part of that family. It struck me immediately that this would be something to talk about in greater detail, possibly with a view to improving that situation.
For now, we are still just trying out the concept and seeing if it seems helpful and constructive. My idea is that there should be an ongoing platform facilitating open dialogue between all constituencies at Clemson, not just in our College, and possibly reaching out to the community as well. I invite you to join us as we explore the possibilities of this venture.
Nicholas Vazsonyi, Dean
College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities
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