On March 1, 2017, SLU’s Student Government Association suspended the Oath of Inclusion in order to “ensure the Oath of Inclusion better reflects its actual meaning and purpose on campus.”
The Oath was developed by the SGA in the wake of several bias incidents that occurred in the spring of 2010. In 2012, then-Vice President of Diversity and Social Justice Kripa Sreepada told The University News that the SLU community “felt extremely broken” and needed to encourage that all students are respected at SLU. “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,” Sreepada had said.
The Oath was a proper and effective response by the student body to the situation at the time. However, it was never meant to be a one-time solution to the problems that this university faces regarding minority inclusion and diversity. We believe that the words contained in the Oath embody an ideal that we must strive to achieve, but we are skeptical about the extent to which the Oath alone creates actual, meaningful change in the SLU community. The Oath is most likely to be influential on students who are already involved in organizations that promote social justice—but it has little impact on the day-to-day life of the average SLU student. In order to change the behavior of those who need it most, we need more than just an Oath. We need concrete action.
The University should embrace real changes that encourage an inclusive environment. SLU should encourage student growth, for instance, by implementing requirements for courses that foster dialogue and expose students to people who are different from them. If there was a more specific and consistent requirement in SLU’s curriculum for exposure to diversity, perhaps students would pay more attention to the need for inclusion on this campus. A requirement that every student take a class in African American Studies, for example, or Women and Gender Studies, would better students’ understanding and represent real change. Instead, the College of Arts and Sciences only necessitates three credit hours to satisfy the Diversity in the U.S. requirement, and the classes that satisfy the requirement vary greatly. Included among the classes that satisfy the requirements are Native American Literature, Reading the Female Bildungsroman, Repairing the World: Social Justice through the Lenses of the Jewish Tradition, Ethics in Politics, and Disability Theory and Politics. Although these classes all explore different aspects of American diversity, each obviously discusses separate issues. Oppression intersects and overlaps many groups, but the experiences taught in these classes are indeed distinct. The SLU curriculum should not stop at the diversity requirement and exposure to new ideas should remain a consistent part of the SLU experience.
Another possible way of exposing students to different people and beliefs would be through requiring more dialogue between students, perhaps through the SafeZone Program, or more classes like Intergroup Dialogue. The SLU experience should reflect a consistent effort to broaden its students’ understanding, so this too would need to be more than a one-time session. Continual dialogue, not just for those who seek it out, would best serve the SLU community as a whole.
Finally, students could learn more about others by serving in their St. Louis community. Some classes and programs already require that students serve the community, but requiring a more rigid and focused service experience might better introduce students to new ideas. If the University wants its students to be exposed to situations and people that will cause them to grow the most, it will have to restrict the opportunities to serve to those that will allow them to grow. Providing a wider variety of ways to serve may, like the diversity requirement, make it easier to satisfy curriculum needs, but if the University wants to most effectively impact its student body, it may have to create a more rigid service structure.
The Oath of Inclusion provided SLU students with solidarity in a time of need. However, words without the necessary actions to complement them will have no effect on students if they are able to ignore them. There is a large number of students who strive to make SLU a more inclusive place, but there are many students here that don’t understand the need to change their behavior. Unless SLU takes actions to reach all communities, not just those who are seeking change, we will not see the inclusivity that the Oath describes.