President David E. Daniel

March 2015


Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

“Commies Go Home!” said a surreptitiously placed sign on the registration table in a Dallas hotel. It was December 1963. Our community was desperate to overcome the “City of Hate” moniker associated with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The sign hardly represented the welcome that our earliest faculty members, organizers of an astrophysics conference, had planned for the international academicians and scientists they were hosting.

I cite this incident in the early history of the University (when it was known as the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest) as a point of reference for what confronts us today, from the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to the aisle of a party bus in Oklahoma – the ugly, destructive power of prejudice. The behavior exhibited is appalling and disgusting. It is also a sobering confirmation that much work remains to be done.

While prejudice presents itself in different contexts, I believe it is a manifestation of something just as corrosive – fear. Fear of a changing situation or of one’s own inadequacies.

Students who live in the residence halls often study together and socialize, gaining a better understanding of those from different backgrounds.

Education can and should be a powerful tool in combating fear and prejudice by exploring social and intellectual differences. Education happens throughout the college experience, not just in the classroom. These recent, troubling events have forced me to consider the potential for such attitudes and practices here at UTD, and to question whether we are doing enough to provide a setting in which our students have meaningful conversations and interactions that enlighten their relationships, dispelling stereotypes and impulses toward prejudice.

Experience shows that mere exposure to others outside our norm, while helpful, is not enough to overcome intolerance. Rather, it is in the discovery of what we have in common – joys, concerns, dreams – that an antidote to prejudice can be found.

At Freshman Convocation this year, I urged our new students to seek out people who are very different from themselves. Considering the diversity on our campus – nationality, gender, race, sexual orientation, class and life experience – the challenge shouldn’t be too great.

UT Dallas draws students from all over the world. In fact, we rank in the top 25 colleges and universities in the U.S. for our diversity, according to a November report by the Institute of International Education. This global microcosm affords our students a great opportunity to reach out and truly learn from their peers, by attending events, going to social gatherings, talking to classmates or better yet, sharing lunch or conversing over coffee or tea.

An upcoming signature event designed to spark these kinds of interactions is planned. International Week (March 30-April 3) celebrates the richness of our differences. Student participants represent the cultures and traditions of more than 100 countries during the weeklong extravaganza. In addition, we host events and activities throughout the year aimed specifically at this form of educational activity. I’m calling on our students, faculty, staff, and especially our deans and cabinet members, to step outside their comfort zones and take part in an event or activity that introduces them to people they haven’t met on campus.

Cultural exchange and intellectual rigor stand out as part of our University’s heritage. Diversity is an opportunity for educational growth. Capitalizing on the advantages of a diverse community is crucial to our success at the institutional level and is critical to the well-being of the individual student and our community. What we do here is a shared enterprise: We listen, we learn, we change minds. And we do it with respect.

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About This Newsletter

The President's Viewpoint is a periodic newsletter distributed to a select group of alumni, friends, faculty and staff. It comes from the desk of Dr. David E. Daniel, president of The University of Texas at Dallas, and provides the ultimate insider’s view on the news and concerns of the University.