Staff Editorial: Dear Chancellor Martin

Dear Chancellor Martin,

There is no way we can fully understand, express or summarize the myriad thoughts and emotions the members of the Washington University community were experiencing on Sunday, May 31. But there are some things we do know. Students, faculty and staff were angry—yet another Black man was killed at the hands of a police officer. They were sad as they witnessed police brutality continue to tear apart their communities. They were tired, the continued need to destroy a lasting, insidious system of racial injustice proven over and over again.

Since May 25, students have had to sit with the emotional weight of George Floyd’s murder, along with the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others. And then, nearly a week after the murder, you sent us all an email.

The Student Life Editorial Board was disappointed by your delayed response. A delay would have been acceptable had you provided full recognition of Wash. U.’s privilege or more candid emotion. Your words did not extend past acknowledgement of the situation. It felt as if the emotion portrayed was out of obligation and not real concern. The email felt performative.

The email fails to reckon with the University’s immense monetary and social power—a power that grants Wash. U. the privilege to make transformative change not just on campus but in St. Louis as well, a region frequently defined by a systemically reinforced racial divide.

Yes, there has been some progress on the University’s campus, from documented efforts to increase the acceptance of underrepresented students to the expansion of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and programming like the Day of Dialogue & Action. But that is not nearly enough.

We cannot afford to speak on racial injustices solely when they are too obvious to ignore. Racism against Wash. U.’s Black community is an everyday reality, so Wash. U. needs an everyday plan to help eradicate the problem.

The Student Life Editorial Board also found it particularly concerning that you chose this email to address both racism against the Black community and the Asian American and Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) community at the same time. The racism directed at Asian American and APIA students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is inexcusable. But it is an egregious injustice that the University should have addressed earlier, independently of this email. The blatant discrimination and racism against the Black community and the APIA community are separate problems that each deserve to be given their own attention.

You condemn “the acts of hate, aggression or disrespect toward any racial group that may happen anywhere,” but the University community—particularly the Black community—deserves to see more from you. It is crucial that you make marginalized individuals feel heard. You must act on their demands, because a university is not only a place of education for students, it is also a home for us, and a community for employees.

Wash. U. as an institution is an integral part of our lives. Thus, its students and employees deserve a proper response from the administration. We recognize that this email was an effort to show solidarity. This expression, however, was not enough.

While most universities have yet to produce a fully satisfactory response, many institutions have taken steps that we felt were lacking in your statement. The Saint Louis University statement, for example, included an acknowledgment of the broader systemic issues people of color face every single day of their lives. As SLU President Fred Pestello wrote in his statement, “This is about the countless, pervasive ways institutions, policies, programs and systems are structured in a manner that oppresses people of marginalized identities.” This issue is about more than one specific incident; it demonstrates systemic oppression that has been ignored for far too long.

You acknowledged that “there are no words that will be enough” and that initiatives are being planned, but there are still actions that could have been taken to amplify your words. We would have liked to see your email connect us to existing University resources like Habif’s mental health counseling and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. The University of Chicago’s provost, Ka Yee C. Lee, included a list of resources in her email to students. We can’t help but wonder why you didn’t do the same.

That is not to say that all hope is lost, because there are steps that you and the University can take toward progress. Community members are still feeling all of those painful emotions we felt last Sunday night, so the next time you email us, there should be true empathy. There should be plans. There should be real acknowledgment of how the University has failed us in the past and there should be concrete steps that the University is taking to move forward.

Chancellor Martin, the Student Life Editorial Board challenges you to host an open-access town hall this month. There, any member of the Washington University community could pose questions about the University’s responsibility to its Black students, faculty and staff and specific actions the University can take to address the institutionalized racism on campus and in St. Louis.

We realize that one town hall will not solve Wash. U.’s institutionalized racism, but we think it’s a starting point to hold every facet of the University accountable to making sincere change. Moreover, we believe the onus is on you and the University administration to be the catalyst for this change. We hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

The Student Life Editorial Board

The Student Life Editorial Board is composed of the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor, Managing Editors, Senior Forum Editor, Senior Scene Editor, Senior Cadenza Editor, Senior Sports Editors, Directors of Engagement and the Copy Chief.

Editor’s note: Please read Student Life’s Letter from the Editor on this subject here.

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