#IHEARYOU – Message From CSCU President Mark Ojakian


Two-minute video from Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark E. Ojakian encouraging civil discussion and respectful debate among students, faculty and staff across all 17 campuses. Follow @CSCUNews or use #ihearyou to submit thoughts or questions.

VIEW STUDENT LETTER (PDF) VIEW FACULTY & STAFF LETTER (PDF)
Today, Mark E. Ojakian, President of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) announced the launch of the “#ihearyou” campaign aimed at encouraging civil discussion and respectful debate among students, faculty and staff across all 17 CSCU campuses. The campaign will take place primarily through the fall and includes student events, PSAs and public forums.

“One of the primary purposes of higher education is to provide a safe campus climate where ideas and opinions can be expressed freely,” said President Ojakian. “The CSCU community is made up of various races, ages, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, nationalities, physical abilities, and political perspectives. Our role is to encourage vigorous civil debate on the difficult issues facing our society free of fear and personal attacks. We are a system that greatly values academic freedom and freedom of expression but this freedom we hold so dear requires shared responsibility. We should not accept any behavior that belittles or demeans one another.”

President Ojakian continued: “The start of the new academic year comes at a time when we are confronted with countless challenges in our society. Our national dialogue is dominated by divisiveness, therefore, it is incumbent upon us as leaders of our universities and colleges to reaffirm our mission and collective values and protect the safe inclusive learning environment on our campuses.”

Events on campus are organized by students and will take place throughout the fall semester.

The #ihearyou campaign began with a letter addressing faculty and staff and includes a PSA, campus events, social media discussions and a Town Hall with students on Friday, September 30 at Manchester Community College. President Ojakian has also distributed an Open Letter to students and a two-minute video on the subject.

Dear Students,

Welcome to the new school year! Whether you’re coming back, or joining us for the first time I want to wish you a
productive and inspiring year. As this September also marks my one year anniversary and given everything going
on in our world today, I want to take a moment to share some personal reflections but also ask for your help on
something very important.

Immediately after I began in September of last year, I went on a listening tour. I visited each and every campus
and spent the entire day hearing from students, faculty and staff and at times members of the surrounding
community.

I learned that the CSCU community is made up of various races, ages, religions, ethnicities, gender identities,
physical abilities, political perspectives among other attributes. Our diversity is a core value, one that provides a
rich learning environment that will help you become culturally respectful, professionally competent and civically
responsible. This diversity enriches the CSCU college experience and serves as an example for how our common
humanity should be respected and cherished.

I believe college is a time and place to explore new concepts and to share ideas. Sharing ideas also means
engaging in debate and participating in conversations where everyone does not agree. I know how difficult it is to
listen when you’re on opposite sides but it is one of the most important skills you can learn. We are a system that
greatly values academic freedom and freedom of expression but this freedom we hold so dear requires shared
responsibility.

So what I am asking is that you listen to one another and show respect for each other’s personal beliefs even
when they do not coincide with your own. Free speech in the context of learning and spirited debate are essential
but personal attacks are not. We should not accept any behavior that belittles or demeans each other.

The ability to have conversations when there is fundamental disagreement and emotions are high, is a critical skill
that will prepare you for the modern world, no matter what your personal or professional goals are. This fall
semester, I will be visiting each campus to hear more about your thoughts on this. I also invite you to reach out to
me directly at cscu-president@ct.edu or to use #ihearyou to share your ideas.

I took this position to move our system forward. But what grounds me is my belief in you and in the value of
public higher education. I am inspired by you, the work you’re doing, and in the sacrifices you’re making.

I want to congratulate you for pursuing your education and I look forward to seeing you at your commencement
and hearing about your continued success in the years ahead.

Thank you and have a great year!
Sincerely,
Ojakian-Signature
Mark E. Ojakian, President

CT State Colleges and Universities

Dear Colleagues:

The start of the new academic year comes at a time when we are confronted with countless challenges in our society. Many of you are concerned, as am I, about the unrest in the world and in our country and what impact that unrest will have in our communities but especially on our campuses. Given the divisiveness in our national dialogue, it is incumbent upon us as leaders of our universities and colleges to reaffirm our mission and collective values and protect the safe inclusive learning environment on our campuses.

The CSCU community is made up of various races, ages, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, nationalities, physical abilities, and political perspectives. We value our diversity because it enhances our education and provides tools necessary to be culturally respectful, professionally competent and civically responsible. This diversity enriches the college experience and serves as an example for how our common humanity should be respected and cherished.

One of the primary purposes of higher education is to provide a safe campus climate where ideas and opinions are expressed freely. We are a system that greatly values academic freedom and freedom of expression but this freedom we hold so dear requires shared responsibility.

Our national dialogue has been dominated by anger, intolerance and discord. This climate poses a challenge to providing our students with a safe setting to learn and grow. Our role is to encourage vigorous civil debate on the difficult issues facing our society free of fear and personal attacks. College campuses are the place where debate needs to occur in a respectful manner. We do not and will not accept discourse that belittles or demeans those among us.

This moment in our history requires us to deliberately preserve and protect the rights of all to be heard on our campuses. We must continue to be an academic system that applies and shares knowledge in an open and inclusive environment. And we must continue reaffirming our core mission to provide an affordable and accessible education, filled with rigorous, innovative programs to help students achieve personal and professional success.

I know very well that you are aware of all this. I have watched you lead by example and demonstrate what it means to listen and engage respectfully. I ask that we continue to show respect for each other’s personal beliefs even when they do not coincide with our own. As you all know, learning cannot occur without listening and sharing ideas. Our students need to understand that treating others with respect when there is disagreement is difficult but critical to ensuring safe, secure and productive conversation.

As leaders on your campuses you have one of the most important and valued jobs in the world. You are the caretakers of our institutions, the role models and mentors for our students. You are the ones who will educate our students about the impact of unrest in our world and lead discussions on the effect of political and economic decisions on our society. You will remind them of lessons learned from past history and point them to ways they can support one another through campus activities and community engagement.

Education is the great equalizer and we are all agents of that equity. This is a critical moment in our history and we must all rise to the occasion. We must, once again, come together as a larger community and not let fear, anxiety, and division overpower our ability to open our minds to meaningful discourse. I am so honored to lead this system during this moment and to work alongside each of you in supporting our students in the year ahead. Together we can make a difference.

I intend to visit campuses frequently during the fall to personally deliver this message to as many students as I can. I ask that you consider opportunities for me to do that, whether it be in open forums or in your classrooms.

Thank you again for your support as we work together for our students. I look forward to an amazing academic year.

Sincerely,

Ojakian-Signature
Mark E. Ojakian, President
CT State Colleges and Universities