Open Letter to the Seattle University Community (Vol 1. No. 2)

Last month the community came together to celebrate Mission Day, which was focused on SU’s 125-year history ─ a milestone that engenders both joy and self-examination. Anniversaries provide important opportunities to reflect on the past, assess the present and envision the future. As such, anniversaries can be filled with nostalgia, pride and challenge

I was heartened to share in the first Student Mission Day ─ Moral Responsibility in an Intersectional World. Inspired by last year’s university Mission Day program, the students sought to engage the mission and build bridges of understanding.  I was honored to join with the students as they ushered in what I hope will become a tradition for years to come. From the introduction to the powerful fishbowl dialogue and facilitated table discussions, the morning was filled with honesty and hope. The students not only celebrated intersectional diversity, but also offered a supportive container for attendees to wade into dialogue across differences and to explore the beauty and complexity of identity in the context of the mission.

To our students – I am deeply grateful for your courage, authenticity and care. Thank you for allowing me to share this historic moment with you!

To our faculty and staff – you would have been proud. To the students who did not attend, I wish you had been there to share in this moment of solidarity and learning. The sense of community was palpable. 

I also participated in a workshop sponsored by the Muslim Student Association (MSA) – Allyship in the Age of Islamophobia – facilitated by three of our Muslim student leaders who led with such clarity and confidence. It is fair to say that all who attended walked away with increased knowledge, capacity for empathy and practical steps to support and offer agency to those who embrace various intersections of identity which can impact classroom learning, workplace dynamics, and sense of belonging. The MSA will offer this valuable workshop again. See details HERE.

Overall, these examples of leadership by our students reflect the kind of engagement that builds up our campus climate. Thank you for your efforts.

Intersectionality Strengthens our Campus Community – You Belong Here.

Each of you contributes to our inclusion ecosystem. We are stronger precisely because of our differences. You each are part and parcel of this endeavor to make Seattle University inclusively excellent.

None of us is a blank slate. It is the depth and breadth of varied experiences, backgrounds, and narratives – these multiple layers of your unique context – that offer the greatest potential for enhancing our educational mission focused on the whole person in the pursuit of a more just and humane world.      

As someone who lives at the precarious intersection of race and gender, I understand, from the purview of my own lived experiences, the impact of exclusion, and the significance of being in learning and workplace environments that foster conditions for each of us to flourish.

Kimberlee Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in the late 1980's to describe the particular conditions of black women in society and the void in  antidiscrimination law, in particular, to redress their vulnerabilities and experiences in the context of contemporary workplace settings. Crenshaw’s ingenuity “draws attention to invisibilities that exist” which often are masked in multiple interlocking systems that interact and frame daily life experiences. Intersectionality affords a pathway to learning, analyzing and understanding the world, human experiences and ourselves just as we are – textured, complex and interconnected. 

As your CDO, I am committed to an intersectional framework, not only as a theoretical matter, but also as intentional practice because it offers significant promise for enhancing our climate and culture. Embracing the multidimensionality of our students and colleagues motivates us to ask more complex questions and pursue intersectional responses that bear on equity, inclusion and belonging.

Significantly, recognizing the mosaic of identities and perspectives, visible and invisible, that make up our campus community brings our mission into sharper focus – that students, faculty and staff feel welcome, valued, and respected as whole persons. The vision is that SU is the kind of place where we recognize that difference does make a difference such that none of us must mute any part of identity in order to belong. Thus, at SU we aim to make a difference through our differences, not in spite of them; where all students, faculty and staff are safe to explore the complex ideas necessary to expand critical competencies.

In building our capacity for sustainable diversity, equity and inclusion, I look forward to engaging your experiences and ideas. I have more sessions with students in the coming weeks, as well as time with various faculty and staff across campus.

I also want to take this opportunity to introduce Brittany Gregory, who has joined the Office of Institutional Inclusion as Program Coordinator. Brittany hails from the University of Michigan where she earned an undergraduate degree and J.D. from the Michigan Law School. She is new to Seattle and most recently spent the last few months as a Fellow with Legal Voice. In her words, “I look forward to contributing to a collaborative, thoughtful, and cooperative environment so that students, faculty, and staff can learn from one another.” I’m happy to have Brittany on board! 

In gratitude

Natasha T. Martin, J.D. 
Associate Vice President for Institutional Inclusion and
Chief Diversity Officer