The past few months have presented extraordinary challenges to our communities, as we continue to grapple with the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, record rates of unemployment, and the unrelenting issues of police brutality and racism.
On top of all of these issues, the U.S. is also in the midst of one of the most contentious election cycles in recent history, and many Americans are facing devastating impacts from strengthening hurricanes in the southeast and wildfires in the west.
All of these challenges cause anxiety and uncertainty at the individual, professional, and societal level. However, this is not the time to take a step back in our actions to combat systemic racism, inequities and violence plaguing our Black students, colleagues, friends, and communities.
Two weeks ago, over 750 higher education and community leaders joined CUMU leaders in a virtual discussion, “Where do we go from here,” where panelists discussed why it’s imperative to move beyond powerful rhetoric to create actionable change in building a future that is actively anti-racist.
After the forum, we also distributed a survey to solicit feedback from attendees, and one of the questions asked, “Relative to other initiatives on your campus or at your organization, how important are efforts to combat racism and systemic inequities?” Nearly all respondents indicated that these efforts are “extremely important.” CUMU—the organization, our members and our partners—are unified in the belief that efforts must continue to combat racism, and other obstacles cannot stall our collective progress.
Unfortunately, on Sunday, August 23, in Kenosha, WI, 29-year-old Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha police officer, and then a couple of nights later, a 17-year-old White man killed two people at a protest. These horrific actions further reinforce that there is a “fierce urgency of now” to create a safer and more equitable society.
An important idea was shared by Thomas Parham, president of California State University, Dominguez Hills, during the virtual forum earlier this month, saying “the challenge is not simply to gauge the opinions of your people of color. I want to turn our attention to the white community. Racism is not fundamentally Black people problem or Asian people, etc. It is a White people problem.”
Too often, the burden of educating on issues of race and equity is placed on the Black community, but it’s not fair to place additional onus on a community already confronting and navigating unequal systems on a daily basis.
Paul Pribbenow, president of Augsburg University, shared, “I take Thomas’ challenge personally. This is the right challenge. Racism is my problem. It’s our problem as an institution. We need to change the way we do business.”
As a coalition, CUMU is updating and re-working action-steps and principles to guide our collective work. We acknowledge that we must continue to learn, listen, and share strategies that are effective in creating more welcoming, inclusive, and anti-racist environments.
We have been working in collaboration with our members, journal editor, and executive committee to continue moving forward. Some examples include:
CUMU also recognizes that in striving to create and disseminate knowledge on the most pressing issues facing our urban and metropolitan campuses and communities, we depend on you, all of our members, to collaborate and share with one another what’s working and what isn’t.
To solicit and elevate best practices of our members, we adjusted the issue areas for our fall 2020 Learning & Sharing Virtual Series, so we can learn about initiatives which seek to improve cultural competence, prioritize agendas that address structural inequities, and lead to individual and institutional readiness to transform this moment into a movement.
We encourage all CUMU members to submit a proposal to continue these critical conversations and action steps by Monday, August 31.
Additionally, we are in the process of securing keynote speakers for our 2020 Annual Conference, and the crisis of police brutality and structural racism is informing this process and our decisions.
Action has taken place during the past several months in moving the needle on this work, but the tragedies of just this past week highlight that the struggle is not going away soon. Institutions of higher education cannot be complicit and watch idly as police brutality and racism run rampant.
CUMU remains committed to listening and working with each of our members and partners to continually strive for successful futures. This will not be easy, but these past few months have proven the resiliency we all hold.