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Juneteenth 2020

The following message was sent to students, faculty, and staff on June 19, 2020:

Students and colleagues,

Today is Juneteenth: a holiday commemorating the deferred end of slavery in the United States. It symbolizes progress toward freedom for Black Americans and celebrates Black history and culture. Let us take this moment and all of the moments to come to affirm our Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni. And let us, too, reflect on the work that remains to be done to make the University of Minnesota Morris a truly inclusive space.

Earlier this month I expressed my profound sadness over the killing of George Floyd and over our state’s and nation’s pained and visceral responses to the killings of unarmed Black people in this country. Anti-Blackness and white supremacy are not values I condone personally, nor that I wish to foster on our campus. Ours is and must continue to be a community of respect, one that values each of its members for who they are and how they contribute to our collective vision for this university.

I also asked you to reflect on the road that led us to the present moment and on the path ahead. Several of you shared with me your ideas for how we might create a more just and equitable campus community. Among your suggestions were programming options, cultural competency training and readings, and opportunities to connect for meaningful dialogue. In response, I have charged the working group helping to move our campus community forward with creating proactive events in early fall, with the goal of constructive conversations to help us to authentically live our values. With support from Equity, Diversity, and Intercultural Programs, campus leaders have learned more about creating supportive work environments for Black professionals. EDI and Briggs Library also are convening a campuswide discussion of So you want to talk about race? This is a start; we do not have all of the answers today, we have more to do, and I am  committed to moving forward in impactful ways.  

None of what we are experiencing began last month. We operate in a system centuries in the making. And efforts to remedy it, even if not broadly based, are also of long standing. Dismantling systems of oppression takes time. Structural change often comes incrementally, and individuals and organizations move at different paces. That can be frustrating and a source of deep anger. It does not have to be immobilizing. It certainly is not an excuse to do nothing.

So what can we do today? This moment, anew, reminds me of the power of what we do and who we are at UMN Morris. A liberal arts foundation pushes us to see connections between people and concepts and new realities—to see how lived experiences and human stories translate into dynamic histories and dramatic change. The liberal arts push us to see how one community’s fight for equity intersects with and builds on another. The liberal arts push us to find answers to our questions and to fill gaps in our own knowledge, to have challenging conversations, to speak out, and to seek out the words and voices of those who have been suppressed and marginalized.

That is what we can do today, and tomorrow, and the next day.

The fights of so many for justice and inclusion have not been won easily—and they are not finished. As I noted earlier this month, the work of equity is ongoing, and that work is inherent not only in our public mandate, but also in our own academic mission. This is a priority from our strategic vision and plan and a legacy from our original University 13. And it is work our university is committed to continuing. 

Given Mr. Floyd’s murder and the anti-racist movement emerging from it as well as the upcoming election—all with the COVID-19 pandemic as a backdrop—our next semester is likely to be extraordinary. As we come back together this fall, we all will need to work together across various campus constituencies and coalitions to foster constructive conversations around social justice issues and racial equity.

So, as we commemorate Juneteenth, I want to once more acknowledge our Black students, alumni, and colleagues. And I want to thank you all for your efforts to seek justice and understanding. To build equitable communities. To ask questions and seek answers and to lift up and check in on one another. Nothing about the present moment is easy. But we have everything it takes to move forward in a meaningful way.

Michelle