Dear Salem State community,
My heart goes out to everyone, especially our Black students, faculty, staff and alumni—and all of our students and community members of color—as we try to navigate through this difficult time. I acknowledge that although we say we are all in this together, we are not. We are frequently divided, strongly by systemic racism. I hope that as a nation we can do better. We must. I also know and understand deeply that every member of our Viking community hopes for a better future and is actively working to create one.
We stand in solidarity with our community members who use their voice and have assembled in respectful protest to honor the life of George Floyd and countless other Black victims known and unknown. Together we stand against the societal threats that allow these injustices and acts of racism to endure towards a society that brings justice and belonging to the most marginalized communities.
Our Salem State community has a long history of showing up and organizing in unity to stand up against injustice and racism. Charlotte Forten, Salem State’s first black student and alumna of the class of 1856, journeyed south during the Civil War to teach freed slaves and dedicated her life to fighting for freedom and women’s rights. Her commitment to social justice lives on at Salem State and is still part of the spirit of our students and alumni today. Just as we strive today as a university community, she used her own lived experiences to create a ripple of change, provide opportunity and fight for justice.
We are working hard to plan a fall semester that provides students with the best learning environment while keeping everyone safe from the COVID pandemic. We also must be thinking about the safety of our students in other ways as well. We must not waver in our work to address the societal ills that affect our students, our campus and our entire community. We must, and we will continue working diligently to create an environment in which our students, faculty and staff of color feel welcome, safe and valued—especially the Black members of our campus community. I see the impact the recent (and past) injustices have had on our community. I worry about how we can ensure respect and create community when we’re physically distancing and wearing masks.
As a campus community, we must do better to truly become a community that is inclusive and caring. This is a time to reaffirm our commitment to the values of inclusivity, decency and the dignity of all people. We must uphold a standard of care and respect in both words and actions that lives up to our values and our institutional diversity statement, where we all commit that diversity is part of our mission, history, community, academics, and our collective futures.
Nothing is more important to me than for all to feel safe on our campus, that they feel they belong and are a part of our strong Viking community. Indeed, our diversity is our greatest strength and striving towards better inclusivity remains a top priority.
As a community we must work together, to build bridges and respect across differences to create a campus where we all can thrive.
John D. Keenan