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Rising above odious words

Dear University of Maryland community:

The University's Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, with the support of the University's Police Department and the Prince George's County Police Department, has concluded its investigation of an abhorrent email that was racist, sexist, and misogynist in condoning non-consensual sexual conduct.

The author of this email—a fraternity member on campus—had sent it to members of his fraternity some 14 months ago. The email was disclosed by a third party to the University and others just last month. Instantly, it went viral on the Internet. 

The investigators interviewed many individuals and reviewed other information. They focused not only on the content of the message but also on the factual circumstances of time, place, manner, and effects of the message. They found no subsequent conduct by anyone that raised safety concerns.

They concluded that this private email, while hateful and reprehensible, did not violate University policies and is protected by the First Amendment. Following consultation with the University's General Counsel, I accepted the conclusions of this independent investigation that was carried out in accordance with due process.

However, this determination does not mitigate the fact that the email is profoundly hurtful to the entire University community. It caused anger and anguish, pain and fear, among many people. It subverts our core values of inclusivity, human dignity, safety, and mutual respect. When any one of us is harmed by the hateful speech of another, all of us are harmed.

As our University community seeks to heal, let us remember what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." A university is a place to pursue education, truth, and reconciliation. 

After the investigation, I met at length with the student and his parents. He was sincerely repentant for the harms that his email has caused:

"I apologize for the pain that I have caused you, the entire University of Maryland community, and many others who were offended by my words.... For this, I am deeply sorry. I regret sending that email more than I'll ever be able to put into words. I know there is no way to erase this incident or the agony it has caused, but I want you to know that I will strive to never use such language again. I have learned an important life lesson, realizing there is no room for hate or prejudice of any kind in our community. I am committed to becoming a better person, a person that appreciates differences."

His parents also apologized to the University. In addition, he offered to undergo individualized training in diversity and cultural competence. He also proposed to perform extensive community service.

I accepted these actions to hold him morally accountable for his offensive communication. And, on behalf of the University, I accepted their apologies. 

As we announced previously, by mutual consent between the student, his family, and the University, he will not return to campus this semester. 

Today, I met with some 15 presidents of student government, multicultural and women organizations, and fraternities and sororities. They are members of the newly constituted President's Student Leadership Council for Unity and Diversity that advises me. I shared with them the student's apology. 

In this particular instance, I believe it is more appropriate to think in terms of "restorative justice" rather than "legal justice." We repair the harm to our community, in part, by restoring the wrongdoer as a responsible member of society. I appeal to "the better angels of our nature" and ask all members of our University community to join me in forgiving him in our hearts, not for his sake, but for our own. It frees us from our hurt and anger. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong." 

We want this student to know that the University of Maryland is a strong community that lives by the core values we profess. We want him to learn these values of responsible citizenship.

We now move forward with the larger task of institutional improvements. As detailed in the March 25th message to the campus by Dr. Linda Clement, VP for Student Affairs, there are now several action plans underway to strengthen a campus-wide climate that affirms the dignity of every community member. 

I am particularly proud of our students from all organizations — including from Greek life—for coming together, making their voices heard, and sharing responsibility for creating a campus culture that embodies our University's highest ideals.

Student Government Association and Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy are hosting a town hall forum tomorrow, Thursday, April 2, 3pm to 4:30pm, in the Stamp Union Colony Ballroom.

I look forward to listening to the diversity of views in our community and joining in the dialogue. I urge you to come and participate. 

Wallace D. Loh
University of Maryland