President Pierce Message on George Floyd Tragedy One Year
This week marks a full year since the tragedy of George Floyd’s death occurred on a street not far from our campus. The end of last year’s Memorial Day weekend came to a crashing halt as his death, captured on video by a bystander and shared instantly through social media, shocked our community and the entire world.
As I think about that day, opening a message I received with the video link and watching it for the first time, I feel ill all over again. I remember how difficult it was to comprehend the graphic footage of the life of a fellow human being treated with so little regard by another who was sworn to protect and serve us all. Since that time, there has been a heightened communal awareness of other BIPOC people dying in similar situations. These losses are felt deeply in our community; and solutions to the array of problems surrounding these issues are complicated.
George Floyd became an icon representing a pattern of unjust deaths of Black citizens and the many systemic, racial injustices that negatively impact African Americans, Indigenous Peoples, Latinx, Asian Americans and other underrepresented populations. Awareness about these injustices in higher education and at Minneapolis College has never been higher. This has become a moment of reckoning…a point in time for which we will be held accountable to future generations to answer questions about how our actions, in our current time and place, helped dismantle systemic racism and whether we helped create a path forward for the many changes that are needed.
Within a week of Mr. Floyd’s death, Minneapolis College published a bold commitment to become an antiracist institution through our Equity Statement and its actions. We have spent the past year discussing some of the dimensions of what it means to fulfill this commitment and how to move past our grief and pain so we can do our part to enact tangible changes.
Our initial focus was self-examination, reflection and learnings. Since last June, students, staff and faculty have been encouraged to participate in action-oriented opportunities to talk about race and to learn, collectively, how to be actively antiracist. We held a professional learning series on How to Talk about Race, Antiracism in Action and The Power of Diversity. Feedback sessions were hosted for staff and faculty to share their voices on what it means to be antiracist. Culturally Relevant Advising Training was provided. The President’s Book Club studied Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist. IDI Meet Ups focused on Cultural Appropriation.
The President’s Council spent our winter retreat developing clarity around our role as leaders in ensuring that real changes occur. The Examining Whiteness Learning Circle focused on increasing individual awareness, knowledge and skills to work toward becoming an anti-racist community. Living Room Conversations provided opportunities and a place to express views and learn from others. The Culturally Responsive Inclusive Trainers Corps grant provided funding for two student alumni as contractors. The Community Healing Collaborative initiative helped build and guide us toward healing practices that support racial justice.
We watched the Minnesota State Equity 2030 Plan evolve to a point at where we could see the role Minneapolis College could and should play in moving this significant system-wide effort forward. We met in two unity events to reflect and pledge ourselves to making the changes that are needed. We leveraged our Spring All College Meeting to focus on a more widespread approach to the work being guided by our Equity and Inclusion Division and to begin the difficult conversations that, for our college, are intertwined with making progress.
We adopted two strategic priorities for the next five years, both based in achieving equitable outcomes. We implemented a process to consider College policies and procedures through an ‘equity’ lens as they are reviewed and updated. We established the Bridging the Equity Gap Initiative, to which any of us can contribute financially, to help others like George Floyd find their way past societal barriers to become educated community leaders. Valuable work is occurring in courses, the library, meetings and departments in support of our efforts to become an antiracist institution. And, there are many more actions, discussions and revelations that have been occurring that help advance our journey.
In addition, as community members, many of our students and employees used their voice, time, talent, and funds to support and advance a variety of projects, non-profits and community groups to advance the cause of social justice. Minneapolis College is fortunate to have, within our campus community, strong advocates, activists and practitioners committed to dismantling systemic racism in all its forms.
With all that has been and what is still being done, we know it is NOT nearly enough. This past year was only the beginning. It was a beginning for each member of our campus community to define our individual roles and for our institution to define our collective responsibility to enact meaningful, action-oriented changes.
On behalf of the President’s Council, I can assure you we are committed to working with you, our faculty, staff, students and alumni, to continue taking concrete actions that will mark Minneapolis College as an anti-racist institution, enhance the quality of our educational environment for all students, enhance the quality of life for Black and marginalized populations and, in doing so, enhance the quality of life for the broader community. To create an anti-racist college of authentic inclusivity that is full of opportunity for all, we are committed to working for justice and human rights and doing what will improve the diversity, equity and inclusivity of Minneapolis College. We are called to embrace human diversity, communicate with respect and to understand, disrupt and dismantle systemic racism.
We know this will require deeper conversations, opportunities for healing and more. We must challenge our own thinking as we stand for justice and continue our journey to become anti-racist. I hope you will join me by participating in the reflective exercises at four locations near campus as we mark this somber anniversary and in recommitting ourselves to the work ahead to create equity, justice, change and hope. For ongoing updates about the College’s journey toward antiracism, please visit our Equity page at minneapolis.edu. Thank you, for joining me on this journey to leave a legacy for future generations by creating an educational experience that empowers change.
President Sharon Pierce