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La Salle News

June 16, 2020

Collaborating to address systemic racism

Dear La Salle Colleagues and Students,

First and foremost, let me state clearly, and in no uncertain terms—Black lives matter. This is an undeniable moral imperative, a statement of fact.

Over 300 years ago, Saint John Baptist de La Salle stepped out of his comfortable and secure life—a life of undeniable privilege as a young canon in the Cathedral in Reims and then as a seminarian at the Sorbonne—to commit himself ultimately to serving children at the very margins of society. To be certain, 18th Century France was very different than 21st Century America, but the systemic inequities of an historic social order in pre-Revolutionary France that limited education to the children of the nobility and the bourgeoisie, excluding the children of the poor and artisan classes, seems oddly familiar.

As it is now, education then served as the key economic driver and social engine of success, often enabling the ‘haves’ to keep the ‘have nots’ firmly in place. Of course, we all know what happened next in 18th Century France. La Salle was ordained and returned to Reims to oversee his younger siblings following the death of their parents. Soon after, he had a chance meeting with Adrian Nyel, a layman who had provided education for impoverished people in Rouen for many years. That was the first of a series of providential encounters that would ultimately lead to our Lasallian world of today in which we, together and by association with the Brothers of the Christian Schools, continue to engage education as a tool of social justice, equity and inclusion.

As a university, we are uniquely positioned to offer the common good of education through our platform, while advancing the critical agenda of social justice and social transformation. We have those among us who, either due to their acquired expertise or their lived experience, or both, can teach us all about the impact of 400 years of anti-black, systemic, and institutional racism in this country. We have the ability, the opportunity and arguably, the responsibility, to craft and cultivate a truly anti-racist university culture, a culture that can only be brought to life through a thorough examination of our practices, behaviors, and impacts on those within and beyond our community.

Not long ago, our Executive Cabinet issued a statement in response to the unacceptable death of George Floyd, who joined a growing list of Black Americans across the country who have died at the hands of civil authorities. Since then, we have witnessed innumerable peaceful protests, attended by hundreds of thousands of people here and around the world, calling for an end to racial injustice, hatred, and police brutality in this country. These demonstrations, carried out by civically engaged people from all walks and backgrounds, help to illuminate the way forward for 21st Century Lasallians.

Silence and inaction are not options.

Rather, it will require critical discussion and persistent action in order to design, build, and maintain a community on this campus, and beyond, that is inherently and authentically inclusive. For some of us, this will mean more listening and less talking. Our La Salle students, alumni and colleagues gathered virtually in large numbers on June 4 to participate in the first of a series of Explorer Café events, entitled: “Can we Talk?: Race, Racism and #GeorgeFloyd”. Our next Café is scheduled for June 24 at 7 p.m., An Epidemic of Racism: Unpacking the Intersection of Inequalities and COVID.” I also invite you to participate in a virtual panel discussion, “Responding to Racism: A Lasallian Dialogue.” Scheduled for June 25, this unique event will bridge the six Lasallian colleges and universities in the Lasallian Region of North America (RELAN) for discussion and action, to work for racial justice and equity. Vice President for Mission Br. Ernest Miller, FSC, D. Min., is one of the moderators, and two faculty members—Maureen O’Connell, Ph.D., associate professor of religion and theology, and Luisa Marcela Ossa, Ph.D., associate professor of Spanish—serve as featured panelists.

Clearly, this is not enough. While deepening our own understanding of this situation is a continual process, and one that is supported through these educational opportunities, we must couple that with direct action. Only through the combination of ongoing education, dialogue, and concrete action will we achieve the pressing change that is needed.

I am committed to leading the collaboration necessary to ensure this change within our University. I have heard those who call upon the University to do more in response to the racial injustices present in our nation and city. As a leadership team, we know that there is work to be done within our community, and we are prepared to do it.

Over the past two weeks, I have reached out to a variety of individual colleagues, along with those from the Faculty Senate and the Ferguson and Beyond coalition, engaging thoughts on next steps. I have been moved by the recent letters of support from our colleagues, affirming our Black students and colleagues and committing to change. Alternatively, I have been deeply troubled by what I have heard from some our young Black alumni about their experiences as students on our campus. I will be meeting with these alumni later this week to better understand their experiences.

Late last week, I met with our Faculty Senate President and invited the Senate to consider co-sponsoring a Joint Commission on Diversity and Inclusion for La Salle. This Commission will be comprised of faculty, staff, students, and alumni, and will be charged with considering University policies and practices and developing an actionable plan that ensures our alignment with our Lasallian values, engaging our educational platform to advance our commitment to inclusion, equality and justice. There are countless directions in which this Commission might move, but it will be the work of those assembled to chart that forward course. It is my expectation that the Commission will conduct research into the perceptions and experiences of our community members, with a view to using that data to craft a series of recommendations for moving La Salle forward.

As some of you may know, a group of colleagues has been working to develop a climate survey for deployment within our student community. The Commission might consider this survey a useful starting point to generate valuable data surrounding the experiences of our students on campus. Also, included in the 160 approved initiatives of Project Compass is the implementation of anti-racism, anti-bias, and micro-aggression training for faculty and staff at La Salle. This initiative will move forward as part of Project Compass’ implementation in the weeks ahead but may also be woven into the work and recommendations of the Commission, as an example.

In addition, the University will close this Friday, June 19 in observation of Juneteenth, the commemoration of the ending of slavery in this country. This is one small gesture to stand in solidarity with our Black students and colleagues. My hope is that we all use this day to continue to educate ourselves, challenge our perspectives, and reflect as we look to move forward together through positive actions. Alternatively, for those who are interested in engaging in community-based celebrations of Juneteenth, it is my hope that this day away from work commitments will allow for that engagement.

I look forward to working together to ensure that each of us feels welcomed, respected and valued as we work, teach, live and learn at La Salle University. Colleagues and students, we will continue to make a difference in the 21st Century, extending the mission that our founder began in the late 17th Century, together and by association.

Explorers, let’s get to work.

Saint John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us.
Live Jesus in our hearts, forever.

Sincerely,

Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D.
President