Skip to main

Dean's Blog: Time to educate and act

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm
Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

To be able to grow, we need to better understand the challenges and define the culture we seek, using examples along the way to build awareness.

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “microaggressions are incidents in which someone accidentally (or purposely) makes an offensive statement or asks an insensitive question.” They “are defined as verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group.” Here’s a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article describing microaggressions in academia.

What behavior are we looking to remove from our culture? Here is an example of a microaggression:

Last week in Montgomery County, MD, according to CNN, “a Latina councilmember’s discussion on Zoom about racial disparities was interrupted by people laughing about her accent.” After hearing of the incident, councilmember Nancy Navarro shared in a memo that “This sort of commentary is completely inappropriate and uncalled for.” She further echoed my sentiments, “It is a loud commentary on the toxicity and culture of disrespect directed at leaders and community members of color.”

This behavior is unacceptable. I was outraged to hear of this activity and commit to creating a culture where it is not tolerated here at Mason. Not just because Navarro is from my native Venezuela, but rather because it is the right thing to do.

What does it mean to be anti-racist. And how can I learn more?

A recent story in VOX declared experts and educators say “It’s not enough to be “not racist.’ At Mason, we strive for a culture of anti-racism.

According to the website for Mason’s Presidential Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence (ARIE), “social change is a challenge we take seriously.” The ARIE Task Force has documented goals, their mission, and vision, as well as created charters on specific areas of focus. Please read them.

Throughout this month, the College of Science is deep in the process of doing the same and will continue to share our progress along the way. At the recent Mason Science faculty meeting, Gerald Weatherspoon, the college’s representative on the ARIE task force and a leader of the college’s ARIE efforts, provided an update on the various programs and planning underway.

In February, campus-wide recommendations were presented. Last week, the ARIE Task Force held its second town hallto share information with and seek feedback from the Mason community.’

I want to share the goals up front to guide our efforts. According to the website, Mason’s Presidential ”Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force is taking a hard look at the current state of diversity and inclusivity efforts at the university. It [and we] will find answers to such questions as:

  • What systems, practices, or traditions of racial bias exist at Mason? How can we eradicate them?
  • How can we build intentional systems and standards of anti-racism to prevent racial injustices from returning?
  • What can we do to become a local, regional, and national beacon to advance anti-racism, reconciliation, and healing?

The work we do will create a strategy to incorporate change across Mason, in such areas as:

  • Curriculum and Pedagogy
  • Campus and Community Engagement
  • University Policies and Practices
  • Research
  • Training and Development

We’re holding ourselves accountable because we know it’s not enough to set goals—we’re determined to meet the challenge today and in the future.”

Microaggressive behavior will not be accepted. It’s time to change. And like the ARIE website charges, “We're ready to act. We hope you'll join us.”