Our community and our nation are experiencing immense distress and pain over all that surrounds the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis policemen. George Floyd – one more black man in generations of black people who have been victims of systemic and relentless racism. And while this time it is under our noses in the Twin Cities, it’s rampant and persistent across our nation, and yet again we resoundingly say, “Enough is enough!” How many times can we say this? Have we lost our credibility? Where is our humanity?
We must step up to advocate for our black community and a society that equitably includes everyone. I care for and am very concerned about our black students, staff, faculty and alumni. Many of you are not aware that I am the stepmother of two adult black children. I have pained through their injustices for years, injustices which they continue to experience. Yet, as a privileged white person, I cannot fully absorb their injustices or racial trauma.
So, let’s commit to, “Enough is enough!” – as a St. Thomas community and for the common good.
As an initial step, we must continue to demand that justice be brought to all the Minneapolis police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd. I am grateful to those of you who are engaging in peaceful protests and using your other platforms and voices to demand this.
Many of you have asked about our university’s relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). We do not have, or intend to have, a contractual or financial relationship with MPD.
But this initial step is not enough. It will not prevent another killing of an unarmed black person. We must root out systemic racism and create a world that is just and equitable for all. A future worth building includes everyone.
I can’t stress how hard it will be and the sustained commitment it will take. We must create a world that has never existed in America. Racism is America’s original sin and has continually obliterated our efforts to create a civil society that promotes and respects the dignity of every human person and is equitable and just for all.
Where do we start in creating this new world? We start with our own self-reflection as individuals and as a St. Thomas community. We must ask ourselves hard questions about our own roles in perpetuating racism and be responsible as individuals and as a community for combating our personal and institutional racism. Many of the strategies we can engage in to do this are laid out in our Action Plan to Combat Racism, which we will continue to revisit and evolve based on our learnings. Indeed, we have had our own shortcomings as an institution; we must never stop learning from those shortcomings if we are to create the environment we want for our community members and become the university we want to be.
As we look external to ourselves and St. Thomas, there are huge inequities and injustices in our state and country which we must play a leadership role in addressing. Examples of these areas include:
- Criminal justice and police reform. Addressing police practices and training, including enforcement strategies and use of force standards, and racial bias in our judicial system.
- Quality education for all from early childhood through higher education. Adopting culturally sustaining pedagogy. Removing social and financial barriers to access.
- Access to holistic health care. Reimagining whole person health in the context of families and communities.
- Economic opportunities. Removing barriers to employment, business creation, access to capital and property ownership.
We are doing important work across the university through our teaching and learning, scholarship, community work and advocacy to address these issues. Now is the time to double down on and expand those efforts. We need your leadership, ideas and participation. We can and will build opportunities to do this work through our schools and colleges, the Center for the Common Good and other groups across campus. I also commit to ensuring these opportunities are communicated university-wide as they develop.
In addressing racism within ourselves, St. Thomas, Minnesota and America, we must listen to, learn from and collaborate with one another. Everyone has a responsibility to participate. Those who have felt the injustice for so long cannot carry a disproportionate burden in alleviating it, yet also must be a part of imagining and creating a world without it.
We must take up the hard work of healing the deep wound that has afflicted our people since the founding of this country. As president of St. Thomas, I am proactively engaging with non-profit, business and government leaders at the city and state level who are seeking to unite in addressing systemic racism in Minnesota. I pledge my leadership to work with you and with these leaders to take up this hard work.