Concordia University St. Paul has for years had an orientation meeting for minority students. But this year, one of those students shared part of the invitation letter online -- and said it was offensive to require minority students to attend a special program. She has since said she's looking to enroll elsewhere.
Concordia denies that it has a requirement for minority students only. But the letter -- a portion of which has been widely shared on Facebook -- says in bold capital letters: "All new students of color are expected to attend this meeting."
Jeanine Flowers posted that part of the letter, writing, "I had to reread, wipe my eyes and have someone else read this to make sure I was reading this correctly." In a subsequent post, after the Concordia administrator who wrote the letter reached out to her, Flowers wrote, "I told her there is a better way and how offensive that letter is not just to me, but a lot of people. Though her intent was not to segregate or isolate 'people of color,' that's exactly what that letter did."
Once Flowers shared the except from the letter, others objected as well.
One person wrote on Facebook: "Make this public and let the world school them why this is 1. Unnecessary 2. Unwanted 3. Discriminatory 4. Dumb!" Another person (whose comment drew praise) wrote: "Guess this is a class on how us po negroes should act in massas school."
Concordia officials have expressed surprise at the anger, saying that similar letters have been sent out in the past, without complaints. (Just under 40 percent of students at the university are from minority groups.)
The purpose of the meeting was to share information about support services and student organizations for minority students, according to a new letter that the university released from Cheryl Chatman, executive vice president and dean of diversity affairs, who was one of those who signed the original letter. The university also posted the original letter in full.
In the new letter, Chatman insisted that saying all minority students were expected to attend the meeting did not make it mandatory. But she said that language would be different in the future.
"Clearly our excitement to ensure that our students realized the importance of this meeting may have been interpreted as required or mandatory instead of warm and welcoming," she wrote. "We can adjust this for the future. We want to ensure you know that we value our students and this was not intended to make anyone feel alienated but welcome, as a vital part of our community."