Our campuses and communities are being confronted by three crises—the global COVID-19 health pandemic, the resulting economic fallout, and persistent police brutality and structural racism—all three deeply intertwined.

Our Black students, colleagues, friends, and communities are being disproportionately impacted by the health and economic implications of COVID-19, while facing the harsh reality of racial discrimination ingrained in nearly all aspects of U.S. society. The thirteen elected presidents and chancellors who serve as the governing body of the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) believe it is our responsibility to come together now to speak directly to our membership on how we, as a unified coalition, can move forward in addressing these issues.

Our mission as a coalition is to create and disseminate knowledge on the most pressing issues facing our urban and metropolitan campuses and communities. These three concurrent pandemics are all urgent issues that our members must address. As an organization, CUMU will create space for members to connect, share meaningful actions, and plan for more equitable, healthy and prosperous futures. The challenges our cities are confronting cannot be solved in silos—we must work collectively.

Last week CUMU’s entire executive committee and headquarters staff met virtually, as you can see in the now ubiquitous Zoom tile image above, to discuss and strategize on what now and what’s next? Each of us reflected on the importance of moving forward from statements denouncing reprehensible acts of violence to actionable steps on how, as a coalition, we can build stronger communities for all. The violence that Black communities experience, as witnessed by the recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, should leave us all angry and in search of change. We must create space to hear the voices of the unheard and develop actions that change the future. We hope that all CUMU members and individuals will, as President of CSU Dominguez Hills Thomas Parham powerfully implored, “commit to use this tragedy as the impetus to become better versions of ourselves…and impact this country and world that is sorely in need of transformation.”

In process: Addressing healthcare and economic crises

CUMU has worked to support and share many creative and innovative strategies enacted to address economic and public health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic in an April newsroom story, Reaffirming the importance of anchor institutions: CUMU members respond to COVID-19. Additionally, we are continually connecting with members and external partners to provide resources and webinars to support young people and combat economic challenges.

In addressing the tragic persistence of systemic racism and violence, it’s imperative we move beyond reactionary and short-term actions and statements. We do not have the answers, nor do we pretend to. We are actively researching strategies, partnerships, and next steps for both the near and long term. Most importantly, we will be listening to you, the CUMU membership, as you articulate how these crises are manifested in your communities and actions you seek to take.

Members of the Anchor Learning Network, a collaborative partnership between CUMU and The Democracy Collaborative (TDC), recently met virtually for three half-days. The primary purpose was to develop shared understandings on the relationship between anchor strategies and racial equity. Critical sessions were led and moderated by TDC’s Racial Equity and the Democratic Economy group.

What’s next: What are the first steps to take in combatting systemic racism, inequities, and violence?

  1. CUMU plans to host a global virtual town hall, featuring executive committee presidents and chancellors. Stay tuned for dates and times to join this dialogue and strategize, as one coalition and community, about how to address the realities and challenges we are all grappling with.
  1. In July, we will launch a call for ideas, proposals, and actions to ask CUMU members to do what they do best—offer thoughts, develop sessions detailing best practices, and create learning opportunities to benefit the entire coalition and, in turn, the communities we serve. This call will be linked to our 2020 virtual conference. As we rethink our programmatic portfolio, we plan to create virtual learning/connection opportunities throughout the year. Submissions from this upcoming call will inform and dictate much of these expanded offerings.
  1. Listening on all fronts. Please reach out with your thoughts, ideas, resources, and challenges. Especially, if you have any anti-racist initiatives, centers, practices, appointments, and/or curricula that are already in place and are having a significant positive impact. Email info@cumuonline.org, Executive Director Bobbie Laur, or any member of our executive committee.

As a coalition, we have action-steps and principles to guide our collective work. The following ideas aren’t an exhaustive list; they are merely initial areas where the dial must move as soon as possible. Our network will continue to grow and learn from one another.

  • Centering anti-racism in our urban-mission agendas and initiatives
  • Assessing institutional policies and practices to explore levels of institutional racism that can infect campus culture
  • Developing new and better cultural competence, anti-racism, and inherent bias training and education for students, faculty, staff, and community and corporate partners
  • Reassessing and reimagining community-engaged teaching, research, and learning approaches for projects in partnership with predominantly Black and Brown communities
  • Creating and prioritizing a responsive action-agenda that addresses structural inequality and systematic racism within our own institutions, the cities we serve, and the states where we are located
  • Collaborating with members and partners to broker conversations and craft learning opportunities on criminal justice reform, policing, and the role of higher education in research, training, and policy development surrounding these issues

CUMU’s executive committee has shared these initial plans, statements, and responses to the crisis of police brutality and violence. The statements and actions seek to honor the lives that were lost too soon, but also pave a more inclusive and just path forward.

Things can and will change for the better and CUMU will be right here as a partner in that transformation. 

Again, please reach out with your thoughts, ideas, resources, and challenges. Email info@cumuonline.org or any of the CUMU team members directly.

—The CUMU Executive Committee