Dear Virginia Tech students,
If you’re like me, your heart is broken by racism in this country. It’s not a new problem. Because our social structures were created under the influence of white and male supremacy—diversity, equity, and inclusion—the pure elemental necessities of a society that is for all people, were forfeited. Thus, a ‘for some people’ social structure emerged. This flawed ideal has and will continue to flourish everywhere there is an absence of systemic analysis, corrective education, steadfast discipline, and human decency.
For this reason, I believe our collective and urgent work as a community is to re-allocate power, reimagine communities of trust, and reclaim the highest ideals of justice, kindness, compassion, and generosity. With this hope, Martin Luther King, Jr., said: "Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
The question at hand becomes, who is willing to heed and yield to this rising truth? I believe Virginia Tech can and should be in daily pursuit of an anti-racist cultural transformation. The “crisis” that is unfolding in front of our eyes now will soon dissipate—and then the real work begins. Will we “go back to normal” or will be embed in ourselves the memory of this this moment, and so many before it, to fight racism in ourselves, in our community, and in our systems?
What can we do?
First, we can join the never-ending journey of learning about people, their experiences, and the structural realities that often facilitate exclusion. This ongoing learning for me has come from deep and abiding friendships with those whose life experiences are quite different from mine. It has come from formal education, reading, serving, and failing. It has also come from hearing voices of marginalized students and neighbors. I’ve come a long way—but I have much farther to go. I’d like to invite you to join me in reading How to be an antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. It’s currently “kicking my tail” and teaching me a lot.
Second, we can collaborate to create multicultural environments that facilitate inclusion—a corrective initiative necessary because the geographic, historic, and tribal narratives of communities have made the likelihood of experiencing genuine and meaningful diversity rare. This, I believe, is one of the most profound opportunities that higher education has to foster a tangible, ‘for all people’ microcosm of truth. Designing experiences that build friendships and trust across “difference” can be the heart of our practice.
I know there are many more things we can do—your creative thinking and courage is desperately needed.
Finally, I know my majority identity comes with great responsibility to promote change, to listen well, to challenge systems, to welcome correction, and to use my own positional power and privilege for good. I am committed to this form of leadership for the hope of a society where all flourish. I will fail at times for sure, but I will get up and try again.
I know many of you are suffering and hurting. Please take care of yourself and let people know how you’re doing.
If you don’t like what’s happening in society, there’s no better place to be than at a college or university. We can shape the next generation of leaders and the world they create.
Frank Shushok, Jr., Ph.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs
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