University Response to Recent Racist Incidents

Dear Stockton community,

This has been a painful few weeks for the nation and for the Stockton community.

I have been enraged, disappointed, and appalled. We, at Stockton, hold ourselves to be a model of inclusion and diversity. When any member of our campus violates that trust, we all feel betrayed, but our students, employees and alumni of color bear the brunt of this betrayal. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened, for as we followed and participated in the protests around the nation, we also faced the reality of ignorance and racism close to home in the form of social media activity by our own community members.

One of these students, Shelby Israel, released a statement to The Press of AtlanticCity apologizing for a racially insulting and insensitive photo taken in 2015 when she was a high school freshman.  The calls for her expulsion have been loud and frequent.  Others, however, have urged us to rise to our obligation to educate, to forgive, and to heal. 

What both positions have in common is the demand for Stockton and its administration to do better, be better. That we be vocal about condemnation of racism, discrimination, and racial injustice, and that we participate – not as casual observers – but fully immersed, and present.  In that spirit, I am providing updates on the two incidents in particular, and next steps to move us forward.

As a public institution, Stockton is bound by state and federal privacy laws that prohibit disclosure about individual students.  However, as noted above, Shelby Israel has self-disclosed a statement to the press, so I will only add the following:  although we have no legal or administrative basis to discipline her for behavior before she came to our University, we recognize, acknowledge and share the outrage about this conduct, but likewise hold that is possible to grow and change. Shelby has pledged to perform community service and undergo sensitivity training. She must make good on her commitment.

The reported remarks by a second student are in the final stages of investigation and will be brought to resolution in the very near future.

Stockton, as an institution devoted to learning, will not turn its back on ignorance, or prejudice.  Our role as a university is to educate and encourage discussion and debate toward a goal of greater understanding and change. We will do that.

But, to succeed, we must change views, not just condemn them.

Stockton University is facing our present and our future. We were founded in the midst of the Civil Rights era with the promise of inclusion and a voice for all. It is time to reinvigorate that promise as the allies of advocates of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Our faculty, staff and students are already working to develop additional University and public programs that raise awareness of racial injustices and provide solutions for the future.  We are also working to implement diversity and inclusion learning modules for every student, faculty, staff member, including all members of Cabinet, deans and directors. Toward that end, we will continue to examine and adjust our policies and procedures to support racial equity for all community members, actively recruit and support students and educators from historically underrepresented backgrounds, and address these important issues as a part of our general curriculum and co-curricular programs.

I am proud to share that the Stockton Chapter of the NAACP has organized a march at 1 p.m. on June 19th.  I encourage the Stockton community to attend, be heard, share, and listen to what our students and others have to say.

We have come a long way, but not yet far enough.  I promise we will not shy away from the hard truths and we will learn from each other.  That is the Stockton way.

Best regards,

Harvey Kesselman


Stockton University