This letter comes from the heart and is, in the main, a post that I shared with all of the Arcadia Abroad community earlier this week. I trust that it may strike a chord with you, as you work to frame recent events for your students, staff and faculty.
Our national tragedy of racial injustice, has birthed a renewed sense of shame at the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Like many of you, as each day moves on, the deep grief, sadness and yes, anger, grows as the fabric of our society further erodes under the corrosive weight of these injustices. The facts on the ground are simply too chilling for words. Here are just some of them as expressed by a member of my own family and which I cannot restate to better effect:
'Chronic and systemic racism brings shame, fear, a sense of powerlessness and righteous indignation. George Floyd was a human being who was killed needlessly, like so many other black men and women who can’t trust our country’s security system to protect them. In a tragic twist of fate, they live with a chronic anxiety that this very system could be their biggest threat...
What hell is daily experienced as black families watch their sons and daughters head out the door not knowing if they will return from a routine errand, a jog around the block, or a bike ride?
Data on police killings shows that black people are three times more likely than white people to be killed by police even though they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed. If you scroll to the end of the article, you’ll see that police departments, adopting specific measures, can dramatically reduce the number of deaths. And don’t forget to do some research on incarceration rates. And then look further at infant mortality and other forms of medical discrimination.'
The list of deep inequalities is shamefully long.
As a white South African woman (now an American citizen), I find myself asking, as we must ask, how do I, and have I, contributed to this system, consciously and unconsciously, that continues to ensnare and kill with no compunction, those who are my brother and sister? These questions were as painful almost 40 years ago as they are today, when I was at the University of Cape town as the residence halls were first integrated. I participated in protest marches to Parliament where whips, dogs, and tear gas were used on individuals participating in non-violent peace marches and knew that the color of one’s skin changed the reaction of the police and the outcome of each march. I watched riots and looting, as a response to a perceived inability to address the injustice in any other way.
At that time, it seemed that South Africa’s economic and social frameworks could never fundamentally change, so great were the entrenched power systems of injustice. Both peaceful protest and violent clashes characterized daily life as the nation fought for change. Every structure, power base and victory for justice was contested and hard fought. At the time, South Africa was on its way to civil war.
Through courageous and sacrificial leadership, South Africa did undergo constitutional reforms and an even more extraordinary truth and reconciliation process was initiated and led by the Reverend Desmond Tutu. This opened a path to a type of national healing which is on-going. No doubt, we can learn from other countries and peoples as they face their specific entrenched scourges. We can learn from South Africa’s experience. We can learn from the experience in Northern Ireland. We can learn from the Maori/Pakeha experience in New Zealand. There are global examples of hope. It takes moral courage and is never easy.
We encourage our students to learn from the global contexts where they study abroad, to absorb and understand other ways of being and doing, both at the personal level but also through academic study. We believe such engagement can illuminate and bring to the fore different ideas about economic, social and political structures.
We offer the idea that other nations and peoples may have useful things to say about our choices and the ways that we organize ourselves. We believe that we provide the tools to develop a critical framework of thought and practice so that we can indeed challenge that which destroys, wounds and diminishes. The reality is that we have so much further to go in this task.
The truth is, study abroad has an access problem: According to NAFSA, Black/African American students make up 13.6% of post-secondary enrollment, and 6.1% of study abroad participants. Caucasian students make up 56% of post-secondary enrollments and 70% of study abroad participants.
This is hard work, not accomplished easily and there is no time to waste. Arcadia University is intent on doing real work to effect meaningful change both institutionally, and in our communities.
The College of Global Studies’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce works in tandem with President Nair’s university-wide initiative, the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Commission. It is helping our community to have deeply important conversations and is providing resources for us to challenge our thinking and practice and to learn together.
This past week, our global community held a virtual meeting attended by nearly 75 members of our international community to hear each other’s stories and to bear witness to the pain and realities of our community members. It will be the first in a series.
Throughout the summer, we will be working with the entire College to develop this active listening, engagement, reading and practice and we will continue to look at our representation across our work, our program curricula and our practice.
Please join me and our colleagues in advancing this work. It will require all of us. We know there is far to go, but we intend to make and continue the journey.
-Lorna Stern, Vice President of Arcadia University and Executive Director of The College of Global Studies