Remarks Delivered at the Multicultural Center Grand Opening

President Randhawa's Remarks Delivered at the Multicultural Center Grand Opening

October 10, 2019 

This is a momentous occasion in Western’s history, and I am honored to be included among the speakers today. 

I want to begin by acknowledging the personal histories and experiences of struggle, frustration, and sadness expressed by our speakers today, experiences that many diverse students at Western have shared.  I want to thank them for sharing their experiences, and for what they have contributed toward achieving this day, whether it is through their personal efforts over the last several years, or inspiring students with their example, mentorship, and leadership.

I would also like to acknowledge the expressions of joy and hope in dedicating this new space and what it means to Western’s multicultural students, past, present, and future.  This space is an embodiment of Western’s progress toward greater inclusion, and there is simply nothing like dedicating a beautiful new space like this to drive that home.

I think it is also important to acknowledge the commitment that current and future Western students have made to support the construction costs of the Multicultural Center, through a quarterly fee.  This is a place, and a future, that all Western students have invested in.  Thank you.

When I first came to Western in 2016, I shared an African proverb that I thought captured the spirit of community and change that Western needed:

“If you want to go fast, go alone.

If we want to go far, go together.”

I think that proverb still resonates for where we are as a community today, for the hope that the Multicultural Center embodies for Western’s future, and for our shared responsibility to help Western live up to our values of equity, inclusion, respect and dignity for all.  Including more and diverse people in our circle is not just the right thing to do.  Diversity and inclusion are critical to organizational resilience and advancement.  The more people we include in our circle, the farther we will go toward achieving our goals, and the more indispensable our success will be to the success of others.

Advancing inclusive success, particularly for traditionally underrepresented students, is the number one priority of Western’s strategic plan over the next five years.  It will take continued focus, investment, and commitment to advance inclusive success, which I believe is also the most important challenge facing higher education across the nation.  This involves the kinds of initiatives and programs that we have started, around attracting and retaining a more diverse community of students, faculty and staff; establishing key leadership positions, like the LGBTQ+ director and the Tribal Liaison last year and soon a Multicultural Student Services Director; and building other support services needed for a diverse student body to be successful at Western. 

At the same time, we need to understand that issues of culture and climate are not transactional in nature; transformation of culture and climate are complex, adaptive issues, requiring an ongoing dialogue and a different way of thinking and engagement—one that acknowledges that we may not have all the answers and that we will engage in learning together on this journey.

These efforts are vitally important, requiring engagement of students and our collective Western community in advancing them.  We all need to reaffirm our commitment, every day, to our academic values of tolerance, civility, kindness and respect for human dignity.  Systemic, and long-lasting change involves a culture, embodied in the countless practices, exchanges, and relationships of the individual members of a community.  We must reach out to engage, listen, empathize, and acknowledge the humanity of others; we must be relentlessly personal in revealing the consequences that words and deeds have for people’s lives.  This is our shared work, for which we must all take responsibility.

As you may know, next Monday, October 14th is Indigenous Peoples Day and we have joined forces with Northwest Indian College and Whatcom Community College to host a series of day-long events honoring Indigenous Peoples.  I was touched by the four objectives of this effort defined by the event’s planning committee.  I think they are worth repeating now as guiding principles for how we might go forward in thinking and acting in this new space:

  1. Welcome all people, yet honor the Peoples who are Indigenous to this place from time immemorial.
  2. Hold space to share knowledge, truth from story and ceremony, histories, scholarship, music and dance, laughter and tears, in a good way, in honor, pride and respect.
  3. Come together as human beings, with one heart, make connections, walk forward together as equals and relatives.
  4. Instill a sense of hope, growth, positivity, happiness, passion, forgiveness, and connection.

Winston Churchill once said:

“First we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Spaces like the Multicultural Center are vessels for memory, hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  They are places where culture is created and shared, places which allow the people of the past to speak in the present, and to the future.

Let us go forward in the knowledge that this space, and the things that happen here, will shape us, and shape Western, for many years to come. 

Thank You.