Dear Colgate University Community,
On March 12, with safety and wellbeing at the forefront of our thoughts, we asked students to return home for the remainder of the semester. The days and weeks since then have been unlike anything we have witnessed in our lifetime. This week, the country reached the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we now see more than 40 million Americans out of work.
The pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color due to inequities in healthcare and their overrepresentation as essential workers. While communities of color continue to mourn their loved ones and serve as essential workers, the nation experienced the additional horror of watching the killing of George Floyd. The anger, fear, and pain came on the heels of the very recent killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. These acts of racism and injustice are all too familiar and unacceptable.
Every year, Colgate celebrates Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy. He is remembered as a minister at the helm of a movement against segregation and racism. Today, on the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, as we watch protests continue in cities across the country, I am reminded of his speech titled “Other America,” in which King said, “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard …. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.” Even as we condemn additional acts of violence, we must also know that we are witnessing the manifestation of Dr. King’s words today, as many of us witnessed in 2014 after Michael Brown was killed, in 1992 after Rodney King was attacked, countless times during the Civil Rights era, and in 1921 in Tulsa.
Colgate’s mission has always been to educate reasoned and reasonable leaders, citizens of the world, who change that world through intelligence, empathy, and grace. This remains our mission. We must vow to do better to address and dismantle racism and systemic inequality on our own campus and in this world. This is challenging and uncomfortable work but it is essential, and the brunt of it should not rest on the shoulders of our black and brown faculty, staff, or students. We must stand together for a more just society.
Colleges and universities, typically and rightfully, refrain from speaking about matters of the day. They are not political entities. They must allow for a space for debate and disagreement about politics and affairs of the world. But we are all part of a shocked and angry nation. This is truly one of those rare times when the institution must break from its silence on world events, for this is also a moment when silence is a form of complicity, not merely a turning of a blind eye, but a participation in the injustice we have, again, seen.
I ask that you take care of each other, and continue to keep this nation in your prayers.
Brian W. Casey