One line in a welcome letter to new students has stirred up an online flap at Concordia University in St. Paul.
The Aug. 1 letter, from Cheryl Chatman, the dean of diversity affairs, was an invitation to a special orientation session for minority students.
But one of those students, Jeanine Flowers of Minneapolis, took offense at a sentence in bold caps: “ALL NEW STUDENTS OF COLOR ARE EXPECTED TO ATTEND THIS MEETING.”
“I had to reread, wipe my eyes and have someone else to read this to make sure I was reading this correctly,” she wrote on Facebook. “Really! I am so disappointed and I would not attend such a meeting. FB, would you be offended?”
Her posting, which was shared more than 600 times, triggered indignant reactions over what some saw as a segregated event. “What century are we in?” asked one commenter. Wrote another: “Make this public and let the world school them why this is 1. Unnecessary 2. Unwanted 3. Discriminatory 4. Dumb!”
Chatman, though, calls it a big misunderstanding.
“The meeting is intended to be a welcome to campus where people make lifelong connections,” Chatman wrote in a letter posted Thursday on the university’s website. She acknowledged that some had misinterpreted the invitation “as required or mandatory instead of warm and welcoming,” and added: “this was not intended to make anyone feel alienated.”
In an interview, Chatman said she was taken aback by the reaction. “I’m not on social media,” she said. “This is unbelievable to me.” She noted that the special orientation program has been held for years, as a way to encourage minority students to become involved in campus life. About 40 percent of the 4,300 students at Concordia are students of color, she said.
Some students, meanwhile, leapt to Chatman’s defense.
“I know Dr. Chatman personally. I know for a FACT that letter had nothing but good intentions,” wrote one commenter on Concordia’s Facebook page. “Going to a predominantly white school can be new or different and we may not all understand each other’s struggles.” The meeting was designed to help students, she wrote, but, “If you can’t go or choose not to, then don’t. Your loss.”
The story drew some unwanted publicity for the university this week, first in a TV news report and on a national online publication, Inside Higher Ed.
After speaking with Chatman, Flowers posted an update on Facebook: “Though her intent was not to segregate or isolate ‘people of color,’ that’s exactly what that letter did,” she wrote. “So long story, short, she has invited me to meet with her to collaborate ways to better communicate and organize her true intentions. I am more than happy to [give] a helping hand.”