An activist in Downtown Los Angeles protests the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Photo credit: Matt Gush/Shitterstock.com.
I, like so many others, am both hurt and angered by the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. And as a Black American, this is also deeply personal for me. To be shown repeatedly that we have no guarantee of safety even in the course of the most mundane of human activities—shopping, jogging, driving a car, or spending time in our own homes—is to live in a kind of terror. In the face of such terror, anger is an appropriate human response to having your life endangered simply by virtue of your race. So, I begin by first acknowledging the profound sense of grief, pain, rage, and injustice felt across the Black community and in our university community.
There are far too many other named and unnamed Black victims that provide painful proof that we have not come far enough in making good on full equality in the democratic experiment that is the United States. Indeed, we still have important work ahead of us to address institutionalized and systemic racism and the power imbalances, cruelties, and injustices that are perpetuated by these systems. We also know that the impacts of racism and white supremacy go well beyond the most public and particularly heinous examples that manage to capture the news headlines. This work is real and it continues, so let us not become weary in doing good.
I was a PhD student at UCLA in 1992 when the Rodney King verdict was announced and, soon after, an uprising took root in the city of Los Angeles. I recently had occasion to look back on reflections that I published around that time, and I was stunned by how my words from 28 years ago were still so relevant to this current moment. Over the past few days, I’ve also had occasion to reflect on my own personal experiences with the police in the places where I’ve lived—Princeton, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Chicago, Saugatuck, Michigan, and Atlanta. In those years, I have personally had occasion to file two complaints against the police and have had my share of unpleasant encounters. No amount of individual accomplishment or education can shield us from these negative and potentially deadly experiences. It is hard for me not to take all of this very personally.
Let me be clear: The New School condemns racism and all of its life altering and deadly consequences. Our university will not tolerate racism within our community and will work to eradicate it through the power of our academic and institutional mission and reach. To be sure, we recognize the limitations and inequities that have been laid bare within our society and in our institution by the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of these continued tragic events involving Black lives and law enforcement, and even our own internal campus climate assessment. Nonetheless, The New School is committed to being a supportive, safe, welcoming, and inclusive community for all who chose to work, study, learn, create, and lead change here. We must draw on our academic mission and our institutional values to make meaningful change—to unpack hierarchy, privilege, policies, and systems that benefit certain communities and disadvantage and harm other communities, including the social, economic, and political stratification that is racism.
I have always believed in the power of education to change lives—and in the power of collective action to change history. That fundamental belief, even in the face of these recent heinous events, remains undaunted. We have much work to do together to realize the promise of our nation and of our university community. In this time, we need to redouble our efforts to listen carefully to each other’s experiences, to provide support and space for healing, and to continue our efforts to create an academic community in which every member can show up fully and completely as who they are. The New School community will be hearing regularly from Melanie Hart, Senior Vice President of Institutional Strategy for Social Justice, with updates on our work arising from the recent campus climate assessment and other ways our community is working together to advance our values and achieve our mission.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I feel fortunate to be able to do this work with the caliber of students and colleagues we have at The New School who are committed to a future society that is ever more inclusive and ever more socially just.
Dr. Dwight A. McBride is the president of The New School.