I don’t pretend to understand the depth of grief, sorrow, and justified rage my Black brothers and sisters feel right now, but I do see you, I do hear you, and I deeply mourn with you over the senseless and continued murder of Black Americans, year after year, as we go about our business in polite silence.
Diversity, without a moral compass, will not save us from ourselves. To belong is to be seen for one’s full humanity and to be embraced and welcomed into a community as an equal. Without a full understanding of our university’s past, of those that sacrificed and were sacrificed in order to break the segregation wall that finally came down in 1958, we cannot move forward with the sense of urgency needed to build a truly inclusive educational experience and to educate graduates ready to lead an increasingly complex and diverse world grounded in justice.
Yes, we have made strides in creating excellence tied to access, but we are not where we need to be, particularly for African American students, staff, and faculty. And where we have made strides, all too often we shy away from celebrating too much or too loudly out of fear of a backlash that legally, but unethically erases progress toward an equitable educational environment. Fear is based on a perceived sense of loss and so long as we are driven by fear, we will suffer the repeated heartbreak, rage, and impotence we are experiencing right now.
In my 15 years as a chief diversity officer, I’ve worked at three distinct Historically White Colleges and Universities, and more times than I care to remember, I’ve sat with or taken calls from incredibly strong and brave faculty, staff, and students, who have reached the breaking point. I’ve cried uncontrollably during past and current screenings of this horror show we’re in right now. This week unearthed memories of being confronted by police violence I buried so deep I’ve never shared them with those I love. Sometimes the mask falls off, sometimes the armor is too heavy to put on, but every time, I’m buoyed by a collective of compassionate, caring, incredibly brilliant and empathic colleagues and students who show up ready to lend a hand and commit to the work.
The Florida Board of Governors, the University of Florida Board of Trustees, and the President of the University of Florida have clearly declared that racism and its impact on our educational mission are unacceptable and have all committed to creating accountability to ensure we move with a purpose to accomplish our mission: “The University of Florida must create the broadly diverse environment necessary to foster multicultural skills and perspectives in teaching and research for its students to contribute and succeed in the world of the 21st century.”
I came to the University of Florida with this mission in mind, because as a Land Grant Institution, we are rooted in the land and the diverse people that make up Florida, and because I gauged a sense of collective will and purpose to do what others say is not possible. Florida is where we launched humans to the moon, and where we’ll launch our beloved university to new levels of excellence based on equitable access for all. But, it requires you to join in, with a spirit of curiosity, an open heart, and the will to change by taking action - today, tomorrow, and thereafter.
In community, with love,
UF Chief Diversity Officer
& Senior Advisor to the President
June 8, 2020