I hope you’ve all had a chance to read President Cabrera’s message to the community — if you haven’t, please take a moment to read it. What Charlottesville and UVA experienced over the weekend was an organized display of white supremacy, racism, bigotry, and violence. That what we witnessed was such blatant racism and bigotry is less shocking for some of us — particularly our staff and students of color. Those marching as part of the ‘Unite the Right’ event also showed up as overtly homophobic and anti-Semitic in their actions and words. Again, our willingness to acknowledge what played out right in front of our eyes may be painful, but it is important to name (particularly now).
No doubt, our students, like most of us, were watching, too. We know that some of our students participated in the protests (in fact, we have confirmation that a Mason student was one of those injured by the driver that killed one person and injured so many more – our student is ok.)
As the school year begins, our ability to show up as compassionate leaders in the face of complex and challenging national and local issues is critically important. Our ability to manage the concerns that our students raise will only be as strong as our leadership team on the ground. It is quite possible we will be called on to support and respond to our students in ways we have not experienced before.
Let’s reflect on and discuss these questions as we move toward the start of the school year: What is the community we want to cultivate on campus for our students and our colleagues? What tone and message must we convey to our students and our staff who provide direct service? As leaders on campus and in University Life, we measure our success by the support for and the success of our students – how do we accompany our students through these trying, stressful times? How do we support our staff and each other? How do we ensure we are not unintentionally contributing to the micro-aggressions and the subtle and not-so-subtle acts of racism and bias that occur in our division and in the university?
The work we do in service to our students requires community-focused leadership now more than ever. Let’s remember some key commitments we’ve made for the year (you will hear more about these commitments at our next directors’ meeting): a stronger, more inclusive commitment to well-being for everyone; a stronger commitment to our own education around diversity/inclusion/anti-racism work; a stronger commitment to our students’ education around diversity/inclusion/anti-racism work; and listening and providing more opportunities for our students to raise their concerns and have their voices heard.
Let’s remember the resources we already have in place. You will receive additional information on resources in the coming days and weeks.
We often sit at the intersection of issues of freedom of expression, individual rights, and diversity, inclusion, and equity. We will need to be clearer than ever that defending free speech does not give anyone a license to commit violence and does not, in any way, diminish our commitment to creating just communities. In the coming weeks, our staff, our university, and our students will look to us to listen, provide advocacy, support and compassion, and to show our commitment to anti-racism and inclusion work through right action. Let’s move forward in community and collaboration with each other. I look forward to discussing the year ahead in the next directors’ meeting.
Please feel free to share this message with your folks.