Calls for Change

College leaders call for societal change and urge their communities not to turn to violence in protests against racism, police brutality and the senseless killing of George Floyd.

June 2, 2020
 
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Thousands of protesters across the nation have in recent days voiced their anguish over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Many people who participated in protests did so peacefully, but some protests turned to riots as racial tensions and frustration boiled over. At least 25 cities have now imposed curfews in an attempt to regain control.

Many higher education leaders published statements this week that mourned losses by the black community and called for unity. The following is a sampling of those statements. All are excerpts with links to full statements included where available.

Rudy Fichtenbaum, professor of economics at Wright State University and president of the American Association of University Professors

“While looting and the destruction of property cannot be condoned, the destruction of property cannot be compared to the taking of someone’s life. We condemn the fact that only one of the four police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd has been arrested and recognize that Floyd’s death is just one more example of the senseless loss of an African American life at the hands of police. The actions of police across the country are enabled by political leaders who have failed to deal with institutional racism and inequality, and they also must be held accountable. The AAUP supports the right of all citizens to engage in peaceful protests and calls for an end to police violence against protesters. We also recognize that our institutions of higher education have been part of the problem, but they can be part of the solution by marshaling the expertise of faculty and the energy of students in developing meaningful approaches to mitigating racism and inequality in our society.”

David Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, and David Acosta, AAMC chief diversity and inclusion officer

“Over the past three months, the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the racial health inequities harming our black communities, exposing the structures, systems and policies that create social and economic conditions that lead to health disparities, poor health outcomes and lower life expectancy. Now, the brutal and shocking deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have shaken our nation to its core and once again tragically demonstrated the everyday danger of being black in America. Police brutality is a striking demonstration of the legacy racism has had in our society over decades. This violence has eroded trust of the police within black and other communities of color who are consistently victims of marginalization, focused oppression, racial profiling and egregious acts of discrimination. Our country must unite to combat and dismantle racism and discrimination in all its forms and denounce race-related violence, including police brutality. Enough is enough.”

Eloy Oakley, chancellor of California Community Colleges

Craig Robinson, president of College Possible

“Just as the COVID-19 crisis has exposed fault lines present long before the pandemic, overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, sadness and anger were laid bare when a single act of violence became emblematic of the experiences that far too many of us still have in our lives and communities. But in healing, there is hope -- and in recovery, there is opportunity. Will our recovery from the pandemic turn the tide on the widening wage and economic inequality that typified the decade that followed the Great Recession? Will our response to a senseless murder heighten the sense of urgency with which we work to address the inequality that defines the lives of students? Will we have the will and the power to create a new reality? We ask these questions because we have no interest in returning to a 'new normal.' Rather, we seek a new way forward that will offer more hope and promise than ever before.”

Statement from the Association of Community College Trustees

“What we have witnessed in Minneapolis with the killing of George Floyd, and in too many other places over the years, violates the very core values of ACCT and our commitment to inclusion, acceptance, dignity and justice for all people. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed continuing inequalities and systemic oppression faced by neighbors and communities disproportionately affected, while also giving rise to a resurgence of xenophobic attacks and fear mongering directed at our brothers and sisters of Asian descent. Those of us who work tirelessly for good through our community colleges and what they represent must stand united with those afflicted against the base instincts of others among us that seek to divide, denigrate and subjugate on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and other differences.”

Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University

"I want to make clear, both personally and on behalf of Cornell, that we will do all we can as a university to address this scourge of racism. We will address it directly in our educational programs, in our research and in our engagement and related activities, working through the ways we know best to push for a world that is equitable and kind; where people do not have to fear for their lives because of the color of their skin; and where everyone has the same opportunities to grow, thrive and enjoy their lives."

Vincent Price, president of Duke University

"This ongoing history of structural and sustained racism is a fundamental and deeply distressing injustice, here as elsewhere. Duke University will continue the work of addressing generations of racism and injustice, of seeking ways to approach one another with respect, and of building communities that are truly safe, supportive and inclusive for all."

P. Barry Butler, president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

"Violence is never the solution, but we also cannot stand idly by. In turbulent times, self-reflection and education can be keys to positive change. Please ask yourselves how you can leverage your particular connections, skills and knowledge to make a positive difference -- and how unconscious bias may affect your judgments."

Christopher Pietruskiewicz, president of the University of Evansville

“Our UE community and our nation mourns the recent tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. I am deeply saddened by the increase in acts of violence and hate rather than understanding and compassion. Many African Americans in our community are experiencing a sense of deep personal loss as a result of these events, and we want you to know that we stand with you during this difficult time. At the University of Evansville, we must prepare our students for an increasingly complex world, and that is not an easy task. It is imperative that we learn from experiences, history, cultures, values, beliefs and views different from our own and that we strive to become more empathic and more compassionate every day.”

DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College

"At Montgomery College, one simple truth drives the ethos of our work: no student is expendable and no portion of our community does not belong to us. The health, safety and prosperity of our collective demands that anchor institutions such as Montgomery College acknowledge the pain, fear and disillusionment that exist for our students, employees and community members. We are not the same after the events of this past week. They have manifested what many have felt for some time: our nation is at risk, our systems are fractured and our community is vulnerable. The death of George Floyd and so many before him must not be divorced from deep currents that were always just beneath the surface: economic and social inequality, inconsistent accountability in law enforcement, a glaring absence of a moral compass in White House leadership, an exaggerated use of military force in domestic situations and rhetoric that recalls violence against people of color in this country. It is a palimpsest of racism in this country.​"

Joseph Castro, president of Fresno State University

"While we may at times feel despair at the frequency of such tragic events, and while we might struggle with how to successfully address racism, I am certain that we can begin by being compassionate, supportive and fully inclusive in our programs and in our actions. Let’s commit to an intentional and unwavering effort to see one another as true partners, consistent with our Principles of Community -- kindness, respect, collaboration and accountability -- and our core values of diversity, distinction and discovery."

Wayne Frederick, president of Howard University

"I am the proud father of two precocious teenagers. Like many parents we have very purposely had 'The Talk' -- the unwelcome but necessary conversation about how to prepare for engagement with law enforcement. Watching these modern-day examples of social injustice and unrest in the presence of my 15-year-old son has brought up some difficult conversations. He reminded me of a time when we were heading to campus and were pulled over. I personally don’t recall all the details of that stop. However, my son vividly remembers the anger he felt as a result of the interaction. Upon seeing the news out of Minneapolis, he turned to me and asked, 'Dad, should I just fall to the ground if a cop approaches me?' Praying for the right words to say, I told him that he should remain calm and try to express himself to the best of his ability. Yet, even after struggling through that conversation, the myriad names of innocent Black lives taken through lethal force -- young and old, men and women -- testify to the insufficiency of that advice."

Anne Kress, president of Northern Virginia Community College

"Like you, throughout the weekend, I watched as nonviolent protests in the tradition and spirit of Dr. King were twisted into violence and chaos and wondered: what can we do? At NOVA, our values are clear: we have a shared commitment to providing open access and promoting equality for all who seek to improve their lives; we believe in the worth, dignity and human potential of each individual; we recognize our responsibility to build and maintain a welcoming, caring and inclusive environment in which to learn and work. These values are a promise to our students and colleagues that they will not wait for equity in opportunity at NOVA."

Steve Robinson, president of Owens Community College

“I have a very simple and direct message for our campus community, especially our Black students, faculty and staff. The deaths of Black Americans such as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others who have been targeted because of their skin color are reprehensible and unequivocally wrong. Period. These tragedies go against everything our institution stands for, as well as the exceptional training we deliver in our programs for first responders. As president, I denounce this violence and death in the strongest of terms. The immense hurt, frustration and anger felt by countless Americans, but especially communities of color, is significant and must be acknowledged.”

William Tramontano, president of Queens College

“The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Those who accept evil without protesting against it are really cooperating with it.' And he also said, 'Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral.' The challenge to our society is to do the following: Speak out against injustice and do so peacefully through the exercise of one's constitutional rights. Governor Cuomo made his direction known yesterday when he said, 'We do not need to lose the passion or the outrage. We need to direct it like a laser focused on real positive change.' And our chancellor, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, said during the past weekend, 'Through our teaching, our research and our advocacy, we can drive reforms as we continue to foster social justice and diversity in the culture at large.'"

A statement from administrators at Seton Hall University

"Issues with which our society has grappled for years, again in the spotlight, further strain a nation already under tremendous pressure from the coronavirus pandemic. As a Catholic community of faith committed to diversity and inclusion, we reaffirm our conviction that racism has no place -- anywhere. Our Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society."

Tracy Fitzsimmons, president of Shenandoah University

“As a university president, a mother, an American and a human being I am horrified and outraged by last week’s senseless killing of George Floyd and the daily racist attacks on Black men and women in our society. For anyone to lose their life, be judged or have opportunities denied based on the color of their skin -- THIS IS NOT OKAY!”

Steven Currall, president of the University of South Florida

"As we work to help each other understand what has happened -- if we can ever truly understand -- I find myself reflecting on the Principles of Community we aspire to at USF. To treat each other with respect and dignity, refrain from displays of inappropriate anger or intimidating conduct, shun epithets or abusive language, find effective means to disagree, and to persuade and to inform through dialogue."

Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University

“Perhaps George Floyd will be for our generation what Emmett Till was for an earlier generation, a symbol of just how brutally inhuman America can be to people and communities of color, someone whose death sparks the national outrage that declares 'No more.' No more to a broken culture of policing that results in a murderous police officer with a knee to the throat of a man feeling his life ebb away. No more to a failed health system that allows disproportionate rates of death from COVID-19 and so many other ills among African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and low-income people. No more to massive job losses in communities of color. No more to discrimination against Asian Americans because of coronavirus. No more to the structural and institutionalized racism of our judicial system, our schools, our economy and the many institutions that continue to fail people of color."

Mary Schmidt Campbell, president of Spelman College

"This morning, I spoke to a Spelman student who was taken into custody last night, shortly after the curfew instituted by the City of Atlanta. Her account of her encounter with Atlanta's law enforcement is harrowing. She shared that she was a passenger in a car driven by a young man, formerly enrolled at Morehouse College. They drove to the downtown area to witness the events of last night and became entangled in traffic close to the time of the curfew. Police officers approached them and ordered them out of the car. Terrified, our student fumbled with the car door and was greeted with fists pounding on the car window. A police officer then opened the door, tased her and pushed her on the ground. She was taken into custody. Her crime? Nothing. She was not charged and, after several hours in custody, was released. What the protesters are protesting is exactly this kind of unacceptable behavior -- and that is the disregard, disrespect and aggression that seems to make stalking Black citizens, rather than protecting them, the goal of law enforcement. To say, 'this has got to stop' would be tantamount to shouting into the wind. We have said 'this has got to stop' too many times. We need to take steps in the coming days, weeks, months and years to change."

Leadership team, Washington State University

"Black lives matter. Racial violence impacts our WSU family. As an intellectual community committed to learning and seeking truth, we must reflect on our own failures -- individually and collectively. In that spirit, we soon will release a report from an investigation into WSU arrest rates that illustrates we have much work to do. We, like Bill Gardner, chief of university police, are committed to confronting this issue and will, in dialogue with the WSU community, work toward a just solution. Change starts with each of us, and we must hold ourselves and each other accountable." 

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