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Friday, May 14, 2021

Carrying the torch

Inclusive, honest, ambitious, kind, innovative, responsive; the list goes on. These are the character traits that Western students are looking for in our new university president. We need someone to take off from where President Bruce Shepard leaves, with a vision of our school’s future becoming increasingly diverse and continuing down a path of — you guessed it — “Active Minds Changing Lives.”

These requests should come as no surprise, seeing that the past handful of months have fostered events that turned the heads of our campus community, as well as national audiences, toward issues we face with diversity and inclusion. This awareness is a good thing and is proof that we are paying attention. We are receiving this leader at a time when we need to view our trials and tribulations through a new lens.

Shepard was quoted in a June 2015 Bellingham Herald article saying, “Transitions can stress an institution a bit, but the university is extremely well-positioned.”  All validity of this statement aside, the question remains of which standards, promises and policies the new president will carry on, and how?

The role of a leader is not to be underestimated, and being the face and voice of an institution demands both bravery and solidarity.

The Western Front Student Editorial Board

The menagerie of recent additions to the many dedications of Shepard and various stewards of our university include the President’s Task Force on Equity, Inclusion and Diversity. The dynamic charge was created in October 2015 and has declared its loyalty to “rigorously review campus climate, recruitment and retention practices, curriculum and community outreach efforts in order to develop a comprehensive strategic plan and to recommend initiatives, policies and procedures that will increase equity and inclusion and allow Western to embrace and reflect a truly diverse society.”

In their Management Response to the events surrounding Yik Yak last winter, Western’s overseeing body responded to recommendations for standards of conduct with issues of safety and inclusivity. Their responses to the recommended protocols include statements expanding established policies aimed toward creating a more effective threat assessment. These responses, of many, call for additional victim support services, advocacy support and the development of a committee focused on strengthening relationships between the University Police and Western’s community.

Carrying these promises as someone in a new position will not be a simple task. Shepard’s successor will need to hear the voices of our students and staff in order to adopt the position effectively. This status, arguably more than any other, requires trust from the student body. The role of a leader is not to be underestimated, and being the face and voice of an institution demands both bravery and solidarity.

Our upcoming president will have to be wise and dedicated to addressing issues when they surface. The authority will rest in a position where responses to matters of shortcomings, inequalities, untruths and misrepresentations are both timely and all encompassing. The voices of the students should ring through the voice of this president.

Moreover, they will need to be focused on solutions proposed by students and faculty.  There is certainly a time for talking about problems and circumstances, but emphasis will be well directed toward looking forward with acceptance and lessons learned from what lies behind us.

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