1/17/20 John Gates

John Gates, the vice provost for diversity and inclusion, is urging individuals to speak civilly on polarizing topics with a new series.

Even the vice provost for diversity and inclusion has felt uncomfortable at events promoting opposing views, but this semester he is urging individuals to react in a civil manner.

John Gates has seen quite distinct viewpoints at Purdue, even in his first week at Purdue in early 2019. When he attended a Turning Point event that Dennis Prager spoke at, he noted that he was one of three black people in the room.

“His central thesis was as follows: Diversity is bad. Every dollar spent on diversity is a dollar wasted,” Gates said. “He said slavery was not bad. In fact, every civilized nation was founded in slavery, and that blacks should just be happy to be in this country. And he got a rousing ovation. ... That is what I walked into.

“It was the most civil engagement I had ever seen. That’s Purdue. We do this. Was I uncomfortable? I was uncomfortable and mad as hell. But I sat there and I listened to him respectfully. And I engaged with the audience afterwards. And it was a beautiful evening.”

Gates saw a distinct difference at the 2019 Literary Awards in April, which he described as a celebration of black and brown people, women, LGBTQ and international writers and scholars.

“Everything that had been castigated two days before was on full view and in celebration,” he said. “That’s the dichotomy. That’s real. That’s our democracy. That’s our university.”

With such distinct differences, the Division of Diversity and Inclusion is launching a new series of events centered around the theme of “Democracy, Civility and Freedom of Expression.”

Purdue Student Government President Jo Boileau said the series will include people in small groups discussing difficult topics with others who might not agree.

“Those range in scope, being from social issues to more family-unit issues, all the way to assimilation issues — a bunch of stuff that they’re going to be covering,” he said.

Though Gates said he’s not concerned about having people talk civilly about polarizing topics, he did say there will be numerous trainings throughout the semester on democracy, civility and freedom of expression, as well as advocacy and activism.

The series, he said, isn’t meant to bring people to a certain viewpoint, but rather proclaim an inclusive space for all viewpoints, especially those people may disagree with, despite how uncomfortable it may be.

“We want people to be able to stand in the space of their authentic voices to proclaim their beliefs. That — that’s edgy,” Gates said. “And it can be a little bit scary, but that’s what America is all about.”

Some students shared their concerns in various meetings last semester about a lack of diversity and the feeling that they aren’t being heard with administrators.

One such example was at a town hall meeting in November, when they discussed Purdue not releasing a statement on the CVS issue with Gates. Since Gates is the vice provost, he isn’t authorized to release a statement on behalf of the University, but he said he would have if he could have.

In response to these concerns, Gates said that this semester, they’re listening.

“We’re giving you the floor,” he said. “Articulate your points of view, come together, have democracy gatherings. Take over some of these dinners. Sit down with administrators and faculty. We’re opening up the space, but we are deeply, deeply listening.”

Recommended for you