VPED Statement Regarding Recent Events in Minneapolis and across the U.S. “The Struggle is Real”
Seven years ago, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” entered our lexicon and became the clarion call to end a form of institutional racism manifested in the senseless killing of Black people at the hands of the police and other law enforcement. Recent killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville remind us that, despite the passage of time, some things have not changed in those seven years and the centuries before that placed Black lives in harm’s way. The fact that our country seems unwilling to break this senseless cycle of racism has us struggling to find adequate words to convey and actions to address the horror and disbelief that countless people and I have felt as Black lives still seem not to matter. The virtual environment in which we’ve operated for three months has us struggling to identify appropriate ways to deal with the tragedy of this continued fact that Black lives matter less than all others.
The surreal and pervasive nature of this institutional racism is exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis as Black lives are also disproportionately impacted through the highest mortality rates, greater loss of employment and income, and a widening of the educational achievement gap and digital divide, as many students of color and their families were not equipped to successfully continue their education through distance learning. It doesn’t seem as if we are really all in this together.
As DEI practitioners, how can we find meaningful ways to allow expressions of justified anger and fear? This past week has been a struggle for us DEI practitioners within the UNT Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity as we are usually those called upon to be strong, supportive, and effective in the face of adversity that accompanies the work we do. How do we write yet one more “letter to the UNT community” to provide encouragement in the face of these events as we are hauntingly reminded that George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor could have been our sibling, our parent, our partner, our child, a UNT student or co-worker, or one of countless alumni in our community?
It has been heartening that many allies and accomplices who are not Black have reached out to me and others who engage in DEI work. In the days ahead we will need those continued sentiments, as we too struggle to convince those who profess a commitment to social justice to go beyond that initial telephone call, email, statement, or forum and truly become the change agents and accomplices that will create a future of justice, equity, inclusion, and the confirmation of humanity.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Though penned almost sixty years ago, these powerful words continue to describe accurately the imperative for all of us to work together to banish racism and other forms of injustice that still plague us in the 21st century.
The great Frederick Douglass said, “Without struggle, there is no progress.” As a Black woman, chief diversity officer, and citizen of this country, I believe progress toward ending racism and other forms of oppression is indeed non-negotiable. Let’s stand together as we work to build a just and more inclusive UNT community, one that does not look away from unjust or inhumane treatment without action, and denounces racism loudly and clearly when we witness what has become a litany of names we are reminded to say so their lives are not stolen in vain.
Yours in the struggle,
Joanne G. Woodard
Institutional Equity & Diversity