by Patrick Phillips, Interim President and Professor of Biology, University of Oregon
September 19, 2022
Dear University of Oregon community members,
During Saturday’s football game against Brigham Young University, a small group of fans started a chant that targeted and denigrated members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Meanwhile on the field, both teams were engaged in an exciting game, which itself was preceded by the BYU players graciously honoring the memory of UO football player Spencer Webb. What a shame that the hard work and earnest effort of so many might be overshadowed by the egregious behavior of so few.
Directly harassing someone based on their religious beliefs violates our core value of full inclusion as a university. I am grateful that the Oregon Pit Crew, our student fan organization, immediately issued an apology about the incident. It is worth considering how corrosive this kind of behavior can truly be to each of us. While some might see these chants as being directed against an opponent from another school, they are also an attack on all members of our community. There are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on our own football team, and we know there were members of that faith wearing green and yellow sitting right next to those chanting on Saturday. How did they feel in that moment? I hope that everyone will reflect on the reality that, what may seem like a lark to some, tells someone else in our community that they are not welcome, and that they should be afraid based on who they are and what they believe. Our path toward true inclusion starts with empathy for how others might be experiencing a given incident or interaction.
These actions remind us that discrimination can affect each of us along some dimension of our lives—faith, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical or cognitive ability, socioeconomic background—but for some, it is part and parcel of their daily experience, and it can weigh heavily. We have students from all backgrounds at the UO. Without question, some have been more vulnerable to discrimination than others, as are many of the groups of faculty and staff who have spoken to me over the last few years with true distress in their voices.
I condemn the behavior of these fans on Saturday. It angers me. It disgusts me. It also provides a moment to remind ourselves that these actions, as well as any other actions of a similar flavor, are anathema to who we are as a community. These types of incidents call upon us to stand up against such behavior when we witness it—a task made easier when we stand together. This is who we seek to be as a university, and the standard to which we hold ourselves. We will continue to educate our community about our values and how to live them in words and actions.