While the nation continues to be consumed with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and planning for the “new normal”, so many of us continue to be alarmed by the old normal—systematized racism and injustice against people of color—particularly Black people. While the pandemic has disproportionately affected those who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, and the poor, it is even more horrifying to learn of the unnecessary murders of people from these same communities during this time of national “staying safe.”
My heart goes out to everyone, especially our Black students, faculty and staff—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, often by racism. I hope that as a nation we can do better in the future. 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.
At Salem State, we are working hard to plan a fall semester that provides students with the best learning environment while keeping everyone safe. 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 and our campus. We must continue working diligently to create an environment in which our students, faculty and staff of color feel welcome, safe and valued—particularly 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 we welcome the next class to Salem State, I encourage each of you to be a mentor for the first-year class. Use assignments in your course work or social media posts to show them that you are leaders, advocates and social justice seekers. Help our new students grow in their abilities to speak out against injustices against people of color and others, even when it is hard or uncomfortable. I will do the same.
As a campus community, we know that 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 future.
Our university’s history includes events that contributed to our nation’s struggle for equality and inclusion. Charlotte Forten, Salem State’s first Black student and a graduate of the class of 1856, was the first Black teacher to journey south during the Civil War to teach freed slaves on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina. We acknowledge the lessons that history teaches us about diversity and inclusion, including the cost of exclusivity and the benefit of inclusivity.
While we are proud of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, we understand that being truly inclusive means being responsive to the transformative nature of what’s going on around us. In order to foster an ever-expanding awareness and care for our community, we are offering three programs starting in June for Salem State members to engage in reflection, build nurturing relationships, and step outside of our comfort zones to a place that will continue to move us towards inclusive excellence:
- Healing Circles for the Black Community (with Black Employee Resource Group)
- NCBI Listening Tables for the Salem State Community
- Addressing and Disrupting Anti-Blackness Workshops
For more information about these programs, please contact Nikki Pelonia, director of education and training, inclusive excellence.
Nothing is more important to me than the safety, sense of belonging and welcome felt by everyone on our campus. Indeed, our diversity is our greatest strength and striving towards better inclusivity remains a top priority.
We will continue to discuss this important topic in Executive Council and will be joined in these discussions on Monday by our new Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Sean Bennett, EdD. University leadership has a commitment to our ongoing work with Black, Brown and Proud and Chief Labonte, among others, has been a leader in providing training for his team in fair and impartial policing. Our Campus Climate Study has also guided our efforts and again, I am committed to the work we still have to do.
As a community we must work together, to build bridges and respect across differences to create a campus where we all can thrive, especially in these most challenging times.
John D. Keenan