“We, as students, form a diverse and vibrant university community.”
So states the opening line of the Oath of Inclusion, a document and project launched approximately a year ago with the intent of taking a step toward building an inclusive community on the Saint Louis University campus.
Though the Oath officially is only a year old, its history extends back to the Spring of 2010.
“The whole concept of it began after all the bias incidents that occurred in spring of 2010,”said Vice President of Diversity and Social Justice, Kripa Sreepada, “Our community felt extremely broken. One of the demands that came out of that was that we create a kind of statement of commitment from the students and the university to combating discrimination and prejudice.”
The racial and bias incidents that took place in 2010 led to an outcry from students to see something change. In response, the Student Government Association at the time began work on the Oath of Inclusion that summer, pulling approximately 40 students from SGA, various diversity organizations on campus and students who had been impacted by the bias incidents to come together and piece together a document written by students, for students.
“We didn’t want an administrative document because it was more of a student issue, we felt,” Sreepada said, “What made it stronger was that it was comprised of different outlooks and different perspectives on inclusion.”
Some of the toughest challenges faced by the initial planning group were to how to implement the Oath and what “living the Oath” would actually entail.
Sreepada recalled that the group went through draft after draft of the document, often holding two-hour meetings during which everything from ideology to grammar was debated. Eventually, a statement was decided upon and, after some administrative feedback, the Oath of Inclusion was launched to the SLU community on April 19, 2010.
Since then, the promotion of the Oath has all but exploded across SLU’s campus.
“The impact that the Oath of Inclusion has made and continues to make is really impressive,” said Assistant Vice President of Student Development, Ray Quirolgico. “The Oath of Inclusion has been introduced and discussed with prospective students and families in Admission visitation programs, it has been included into SLU 101, into Welcome Week and into University 101 classes. The Oath is discussed in campus programs about diversity and inclusion and in intergroup dialogue. The Oath is now visibly placed near entrances to many offices and campus buildings. I have also really enjoyed seeing the “Live The Oath” buttons in different languages appear on the clothing and bags of students that I pass around campus.”
Spreepada states that the target audience of the Oath is the entirety of SLU’s community, but a large portion of the efforts have been aimed at the freshmen, as they are just beginning their tenure at SLU and have significant potential to build the Oath.
“It’s a bit harder to get the attention of the upperclassmen after they are done with their first year, as you don’t have those moments when you’re with everyone in your class,” Sreepada said, “But we have the plaques and we have the videos that depict how upperclassmen live the Oath, so their peers can see how others are living it out.”
The struggle to engage the upperclassmen has not been the only challenge encountered, however. Current SGA Chief of Staff and Vice President of Diversity and Social Justice elect, Sean Worley, states another worry is how to keep the Oath relevant in years to come.
“It’s easy to see the impact on first-year students, but as they get older it will be a challenge to keep the document relevant to them and the years after them,” Worley said.
Despite the challenges the Oath has faced, those involved with the Oath appear to be in agreement that the progress of the campaign is keeping them optimistic.
“This semester, we’re making the transition from “accidental learning” to looking at what resources we can provide to show that we are committed to the Oath as a community,” Sreepada said.
The Oath of Inclusion to date has spurred programming such as the Interfaith Music and Art Festival and various planning through the Diversity Leadership Cabinet. Sreepada stated that though there was a lot of awareness raising, the aim so far has been to show that the Oath is not so overwhelming that it is impossible to live out.
Moving forward, the direction of the Live the Oath campaign will be moving towards ensuring that resources that are directly in line with the Oath are available to students.
“A lot of the initiatives that the Oath encompasses are nothing that will be accomplished in one year, or at least see an end product in one year,” Worley said.” That’s why we created the Spirit of the Oath campaign, to ensure that this continues even after I graduate and into other years.”
Worley said that for next year, some of his plans include working with disability services, services for pregnant and parenting student and furthering the efforts of the Sexual Assault Working Group.
Worley also stated that he wants to ensure that the Oath is extending to identities that may be less than visible.
“We have students of various socio-economic status, students of different sexual orientation, students of various ideologies and everything like that. I just want to make sure the oath continues to reflect that and remains a document for them as well.” Worley said.
Donna Bess Meyer, director of Student Support and Parent Services and an adviser to SGA, said that she is happy with the progress of the Oath so far.
“The Higher Learning Commission was here and I had a copy of the Oath in my binder. They asked about diversity and multiculturalism on campus so gave them a copy of the Oath,” Bess Meyer said. “People come with all kinds of gifts, just different packages. To have more SLU people, with the Oath as their background, go out into the world and articulate this is just really exciting.”
Quirolgico stated that though he was not heavily involved with the creation of the Oath during his time as an administrator, he is looking forward to where the Oath will go in the future.
“I hope it will continue to attract diverse populations to come and study or work at SLU,” Quirolgico said. ”I think the campus community will continue to embrace the handiwork of our students because it’s the result of really dedicated leadership that we are all proud to have at SLU.”