Protest, reflection, and resolve
Dear Uni community,
In the three weeks since the killing of George Floyd there has been a wave of protests across the US and around the globe. Everywhere people are standing up, speaking out, and sending the message that we can no longer tolerate police violence against Black Americans, and in a larger sense, the violence of racism––particularly anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism––that harms and endangers Black and brown people in the US and all over the world on a daily basis.
We are proud of the many members of the Uni community that we have witnessed standing up––by marching in one or more of the local marches that have taken place in Champaign-Urbana, by working to organize and promote events (as current Uni students Bela Lleras and Mayahuel Malik did with the Paign to Progress march on June 6), by raising funds for important local and national organizations, and by articulating their passionate perspectives on social media and at community meetings. As devastating as the events that have led to this moment are––not only the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and other Black lives lost to police violence in recent weeks, but systemic violence against Black Americans stretching back many years––it is heartening that people continue to stand up, speak out, and organize around issues of racism in our criminal justice system, and to push and plan for solutions.
The daily reality of anti-Black racism profoundly impacts Uni’s Black students, alumni, and staff, and their families, and we owe it to them to take an active role in imagining and creating solutions to the inequities and injustices of systemic racism. Anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and anti-immigrant racism affects all of us by increasing violence, discord, and inequality in our communities and damaging our institutions. Our public health systems, our education system, and our democracy itself are impaired by the deep-rooted and deleterious effects of racism.
This moment of reckoning is also relevant to our work and community at Uni because the same forces of systemic racism that create violently unequal treatment in criminal justice for Black Americans as compared to other racial groups, and that make our current pandemic so much more dangerous for some racial groups than others, have also harmed and distorted our educational institutions. The American education system has often acted as a means of perpetuating rather than transcending racial inequality, and Uni is implicated in that history. In attempting to meet our goal of serving the whole community of Champaign-Urbana (and beyond)––every neighborhood, all races, and all socio-economic classes––we have to confront the reality that systemic racism affects our school, its practices, and its culture. In order to work toward a future where Uni can be more and more part of the solutions we seek to achieve in combatting systemic racism and creating true equality, we need to be ready to engage in difficult self-reflection, have challenging conversations, and work real changes in our practices and culture, changes that will at times take many of us outside our comfort zones.
We are lucky to have a close-knit and supportive community, and hopefully that will help us to abide these necessary discomforts in order to build more understanding and a school culture capable of ever greater nurturance of all of our students. To say that Black Lives Matter means that Black minds and spirits matter; we want Uni to be a place where Black students feel safe and supported. We know that this is not as true as it should be, but we’re committed to working to make it truer. We made progress this past year in an ongoing school-wide equity effort that resulted in the creation of three equity committees––Admissions, Outreach & Recruitment, and Student Support. We are currently in the final stages of hiring a part-time Coordinator of Equity and Public Engagement, and the work of those committees will continue under their leadership. The equity work we accomplished last year showed us that when we make progress in better serving kids in our community from groups that Uni has historically underserved––including Black and Latinx students, and students of lower socio-economic status––we end up doing a better job serving all kids. We remain committed to improving our own institution and playing our role in bending the arc towards racial justice.
We encourage Uni students to continue to be an active part of this necessary movement to confront and intervene in systemic anti-Black racism in the US, to stand up and speak out, to listen and learn. This Friday is Juneteenth, and the Juneteenth Peace Walk & Celebration will be an opportunity to do all of those things. We trust that there will be many more opportunities, and we look forward to the Uni community being part of them.
Dr. Majerus and Dr. Radnitzer