October 22, 2014

University President Reflects on Week-Long Encampment

    Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.

To the Saint Louis University Community:

Welcome back to those of you who have been away for Fall Break; I hope you enjoyed your time off with your family and friends.

As we reunite this week, it is important that we also reflect on the events of last week and especially the encampment and demonstration at our clock tower. As I am sure you know by now, the encampment ended peacefully Saturday afternoon in a spirit of cooperation from all of those involved.

It was through the hard work, dialogue and collaboration of many people that we not only concluded the encampment at the clock tower, but also developed a true framework by which SLU can be even stronger in moving our campus forward to address some of the key social issues brought forward last week.

On Friday and Saturday, I met several times with students, faculty members and community leaders associated with the encampment. Each of those meetings was frank, but cordial. It was evident that we all share a commitment to social justice, to enhancing opportunities for African Americans at SLU and to providing support in the most disadvantaged parts of our community.

What resulted was a document that reflects that shared commitment. It was not, as some have portrayed it, a list of demands. In fact, a number of the action items were suggested by me. Every action item is consistent with our Jesuit mission, and with the words I used in my Inaugural Address on Oct. 3:

"…recent events in the St. Louis region compel us to dive even deeper into the circumstances that continue to undermine the life chances of our fellow citizens. These include the factors that foster ongoing divisions and perpetuate the chronic, systemic injustice that traps so many of our brothers and sisters. As a Catholic, Jesuit university we must now ask: ‘What else should we do for and with our neighbors?’"

Many of the action items in the document were already in progress here at SLU. I embrace these ideals for our campus and our community, and I hope you will also. Already this week, we have met to establish timelines and to assign responsibilities for each item. I will keep you apprised of our progress in the weeks ahead.

I want to reiterate that while last week was unprecedented and challenging, it also provided the opportunity for a dialogue that many of us in the SLU community have never had before. And while there was concern about the demonstrations on campus, I did receive many supportive messages about the University’s efforts and the conversations that took place.

For example, this week I received a letter from Fr. Ronald Mercier, S.J., Provincial of the Central and Southern Province of the Society of Jesus, in which Fr. Mercier said that with our efforts … "SLU is helping bring alive in a tangible way the mission of the Society of Jesus to serve faith and promote justice for all."

Going forward, we must continue to conduct ourselves in a way that is consistent with our Catholic, Jesuit mission and values, because we know that additional challenges lie ahead of us.

The dialogue continues today in the Center for Global Citizenship with "Living the Oath: Afternoon of Reflection and Dialogue," open discussion sessions facilitated by student leaders, faculty, campus ministers and the Faith and Justice Collaborative team. Tomorrow afternoon, the work of many dedicated faculty members to improve our community will be the focus of "Making a Difference in North St. Louis," which will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the William J. Harrison Education Center in North St. Louis. This symposium will focus on significant efforts already taking place between SLU and our partners in North St. Louis.

I thank each of you for your passion and commitment to SLU and our mission. These are times that will test us, but I believe we will grow stronger and closer as a community. I look forward to working with each of you to make that happen.


Pestello signature

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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