President's Message to Campus - March 6, 2019

We experienced a difficult situation last week following the announcement of Rachel Dolezal’s scheduled presentation on the Big Rapids campus. This decision caused some members of the University community to feel hurt and offended. Many reached out and responded to voice their disappointment in the Registered Student Organization’s decision to invite Ms. Dolezal to Ferris.

Members of the RSO involved in this decision listened to the concerns expressed and rescinded their invitation to Ms. Dolezal and her scheduled presentation. At our University we work hard to encourage open dialogue on what can be difficult conversations. This is one of those difficult conversations. Over the past few days I have taken time to listen to our students, engaging them in inclusive conversations about this situation. Together, we approach this as an opportunity to learn and to do better.

We are fortunate to have a diverse student body, and this diversity continues to increase each year. This creates an important obligation for each of us to ensure we do everything we can to listen to each other, truly understand each other and be respectful of one another. Last week’s experience has shown us that our work to foster meaningful and inclusive conversation is not done, and never will be done.

Moving forward we need to work together as a university community at Ferris that embraces expressions of different ideas, beliefs and cultures. This commitment also encourages us to better understand how these expressions can impact others and our learning community. We can learn from this, and by working together, use this to foster open dialogue on sensitive matters that affect the entire campus community. Thank you.

Our Board of Trustees is firmly committed to supporting and strengthening diversity and inclusion at Ferris State University. On Feb. 22 our Board of Trustees were on campus and spent the morning with Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion David Pilgrim. During their time together, Dr. Pilgrim provided an update on the University’s accomplishments outlined in the 2017-18 Diversity Report. In reflecting on his presentation, we have much to be proud of at Ferris, while recognizing that much work remains. I would like to share a few highlights of the successes from his presentation:

  • Creation of a food pantry for food insecure students located at the Wesley House, in addition to a mini food pantry inside the University Center
  • “Conversations on Race,” a campus dialogue series that aims to address events, issues and trends surrounding race in our society, hosted by the Office of Multicultural Student Services
  • Creation of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center
  • Programming, educational forums and film screenings organized by the Liaison Committee for Students with Disabilities
  • Continuation of Equity by Design, a forum led by the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning to assist with creating more inclusive learning environments
  • The 30th annual International Festival of Cultures, a daylong celebration showcasing cultural traditions and cuisine from 40 countries
  • Various festivals supporting other cultures such as the Diwali Festival, Ghost Supper, Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year These are just a few of the many initiatives occurring this past year.

You can view the entire PowerPoint shared by David on the Diversity and Inclusion website.

During Friday’s regular meeting of the Board of Trustees David also provided some thoughts about Mr. Ferris to the Board. He said of Woodbridge:

“We should be proud that our founder mentored students—invited them to his home, personal library, dinner table. Woodbridge was a leader worth following. We should be proud that the Institute which bears his name had women in the first classes, international students before 1900, and black students in the first decade of the 20th century. He also invited speakers to lecture to the student body about disabilities. Making the world better was a part of his legacy. We must never forget that we did not create this university; we inherited it—and we inherited powerful examples of diversity and inclusion.”

These words serve as a strong reminder of why our University was founded and of why we must continue to support and strengthen the legacy left to us by Woodbridge and Helen Ferris. Together, we will continue to address our challenges, and celebrate our achievements, because we are stronger together than we ever would be apart.

David L. Eisler, president