May 29, 2020
Dear University of Oregon community,
George Floyd’s tragic and senseless killing by a white police officer on a street in Minneapolis shocks, saddens and outrages all of us. Coming in close succession to the apparent murder of Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged in Georgia, six years after Eric Garner met a similar fate on the streets of Staten Island, and after so many others who have lost their lives, we mourn not just for the families of the victims but the ideals of our nation.
As leaders of this university it is important to speak out against these and other less publicized atrocities inflicted against people of color in our nation. We call on our entire university community and nation to recognize that these are not isolated events, but instead reflect a society deeply in need of transformation and healing. Now is the time to raise our voices and send the message that hatred and violence toward people of color and other marginalized groups must stop. In the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
If we were together in Eugene at this moment, we might collectively mourn Floyd’s death with a march on Johnson Hall or a vigil outside the EMU. But COVID-19 has made coming together as a community in solidarity difficult. Indeed, COVID-19 itself has laid bare, as if we needed more proof, the racial and socio-economic divisions that continue to plague our nation and society. Black, brown, Native Americans, and the poor are getting sick and dying at far greater rates due to deplorable inequities in our health system and the fact that they disproportionately find themselves in frontline jobs that put them at risk. That is unacceptable.
The question is what do we do with our feelings of rage? As leaders of one of America’s great research universities, the answer lies in our own backyard—education, research and leadership. We must continue to reach out and enroll a diverse student body and make sure that ALL students succeed, regardless of race, religion, ethnic origin, socio-economic background, gender identity, or sexual orientation. We must provide students with the tools to dismantle racism, to lead with empathy, and to be animated by the truth that Black lives—like all other lives—not only matter but are sacred. As we move through the months of COVID-19, we understand that many of our Black, Native, Latinx, and Asian students are most vulnerable. We must work hard to retain all of our students, see them through to graduation, and launch them into successful lives. Equity means that different groups will need different tools to succeed, and we will provide that help.
We will also continue the work that we began five years ago on inclusion, which included adding to our multicultural curricula, celebrating different heritages on campus, removing vestiges of oppression, and building a new Black cultural center. And, we fully recognize that we have much, much more to do here. We claim no victories, only an ever-increasing commitment to engage in the work, to persist in lifting the arc so that it continues to bend toward justice.
Finally, our university also has an important role to play in furthering the debate about racial equity through research, teaching, and outreach. This year’s African American Speaker and Workshop Series will focus on disproportionality and resilience of the African American community in the face of COVID-19. Additionally, over the summer and early fall, we will reach out to interested faculty, staff, and students about putting together a series of forums and potentially a course dedicated to examining structural barriers to racial equity in the COVID-19 era. In our own way, we will make sure that these senseless and outrageous deaths do not go unanswered.
Michael H. Schill
President and Professor of Law
Provost and Senior Vice President
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
Vice President for Student Life