A responsibility to do more...
Dear members of the Elon community,
With a heavy heart, I write today about the events we are witnessing across America and the truth of the continued experience of our Black friends and colleagues. While my full understanding of what this feels like for the members of our Black community is limited, I share in grief, anger and sorrow with you. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.
I am writing this morning to the majority of the Elon community that is White. The pictures and the messages we are seeing and reading are not new, in fact we have been in this moment before. As educators, we deeply believe that education is vital to creating opportunity for all. Unfortunately, the repeated racism that Black members of our community face is proof that the systems we have built are not yet adequate. We have substantial work to be done and that will require the collective efforts of all of us.
When I was in college in the early 1980s, universities had just begun bystander training. One of the practices taught was to identify a bystander in the crowd, make eye contact and ask for help. “You in the green shirt, please help me!” Research has shown that moment can move a bystander to action. During a phone call yesterday with a college friend, she reminded me of that training.
We are all wearing green shirts today. Harness the emotions you are feeling and join me in committing to renew and expand our efforts. We know we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. We must seek new solutions, new understanding, and open ourselves up to what we don’t know and what we don’t understand. Our Black colleagues need us to insist on change now.
Naturally our next question is, “How?” Here are two things I ask you to commit to doing. First, reach out to your Black friends and colleagues and check in. Let them know you care and appreciate them and wish for them the fullness of an equitable life. Let them know you will personally commit to antiracist work here at Elon and in the broader world. And then, check-in with your White friends, colleagues, and family and ask them to join you in making the same commitment to take action against racism.
Second, join the community in reading and discussing this fall’s common reading selection, Jennifer Eberhardt’s Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do. Dr. Eberhardt challenges us to recognize how perceptions of race shape our every interaction and then do something about it. Her book and her message could not be more timely for the work ahead.
In the coming weeks, I personally commit to deepening my efforts, seeking new knowledge through reading and research to aid in more fully understanding the experience of the Black community and reviewing our university policies and practices. Members of the university’s senior staff join me in that effort and I ask that each of you do the same so that we can ensure that the privileges we enjoy are truly and fully available to all.