This spring has brought to each of us multiple stress points requiring diligent attention. A budget crisis has gripped our attention and impacted our colleagues in previously unimaginable ways. The world-wide pandemic has forced us to physically separate from our friends and family—traditional sources of comfort and stability for many of us. And, unjustifiable killings of people of color have continued to promulgate racist ideology throughout our society. Some actions and reactions surrounding such racist acts are diminishing the value of free speech in our country—a value that lies at the very center of our field and one that serves as the foundation of our democracy. Faced with such a daunting set of circumstances our attention can become split and our efforts diluted. We cannot let that happen.
Importantly, the budget crisis and pandemic are significant but short-term crises. However, racism constitutes a pervasive and ongoing threat to citizens’ right to life, liberty, and vibrant freedom of expression. In the U.S., racism and white supremacy are systemic and revealed in acute instances of racially influenced murder, such as what happened with Nia Wilson, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. As an academic community, we can work through a budget crisis and pandemic; as humans we cannot ignore the systemic racism that has caused trauma, injustice, and death for people of color. Additionally, the acute crises facing us (and others) reveal and magnify systemic inequities in healthcare, access to opportunities, job security, and other essential needs.
Small acts of awareness by us now cannot resolve centuries of white supremacy. Sure, we must become aware of our own privileges and implicit biases. I am committed to doing a better job of this myself. As members of a university community, we are predominantly white, we have greater socioeconomic privilege built on centuries of systemic racism, we have access to information and other resources unimaginable to many. We must understand how those privileges shape our action and inaction. Such awareness is not enough, however. We must go beyond awareness to become actively inclusive. We must understand that our colleagues, students, and neighbors of color are experiencing both ongoing and recent trauma. We must offer support in every way possible so that members of our community can have confidence that we are there for them in solidarity and active support. Although we cannot fully understand the lived experiences—including trauma—of others, we can act with empathy and support as we continue our journey of awareness. There are many resources from which to draw to understand tangible acts of support for our colleagues of color, though I suggest that a good starting point is Stacy Ault’s article, “10 Ways for Non-Black Academics to Value Black Lives.”
One additional point that I would like to make is in regard to our roles as communication professionals, scholars, students, and teachers. Institutional suppression of free speech activities is antithetical to democracy. What we witnessed on the evening of June 1st in Washington D.C. (and in other instances across the country, including Ohio) should be understood for what it was—oppression. As we personally act to promote inclusivity and social justice, we must also call out oppressive actions designed to prevent civil protest and repress critical journalistic work.
Each of us must pursue our own self-reflexive journey while at the same time developing greater empathy for those who have been personally and systemically disadvantaged. Although the journeys will differ from person to person, we all must walk on an anti-racist path. I want to be on that path with you, I want to be more empathic toward others, and I want to be more forceful in pointing out oppression, intolerance, and injustice.
I invite any and all members of the Scripps College of Communication to talk with me about your thoughts, suggestions, and needs. Moreover, I will ask the diversity committee to finalize plans to facilitate a process through which we can collect information from our community to enhance inclusivity and social justice within the college. I will work with the committee, school directors, and other interested parties to apply lessons learned in the form of actions (e.g., programming, policy assessment).
For those of you who are hurting, know that I and many others in the college stand with you. If you feel the need to yell, be loud.