A Message on Racial Justice

As president of your university, I write to the valued and respected members of our Middle Georgia State University community during this time of unrest in the United States. The recent violent deaths of three African Americans – George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick – have once again brought into stark focus the racism and injustice often faced by African Americans. The inhumane treatment we have witnessed utterly negates the democratic principles of “liberty and justice for all.”

What is the role of a public university at this time of division, suffering and anger? We can use our knowledge, credentials and University Values to help transform individuals and communities through action, thoughtful protest, voice, listening and perseverance.

First, we must work to intentionally understand the problems facing our society and commit to using our time, talents and resources for the Common Good (STEWARDSHIP). The problems and oppressions with which we define and understand ourselves can be illuminated by education, and it is our task to bring that “torch” of knowledge to the problems around us. Education can help us toward that lofty goal of “a more perfect union” of informed citizens, learned members of professions and groups who lead in building this nation upward and onward.

Secondly, we must acknowledge any individual biases we may have (ADAPTABILITY). Without doing so, we will live in our narrow silos and perpetuate continuing divisions. Education is a tool that shows each of us when we are relying too much on our own judgments, habits of mind, emotions, or assumptions, and closing windows on insights and ideas of other people. It challenges us to be adaptable, to question our perceptions of the status quo and to look more thoughtfully and empathetically at the circumstances of others.

Thirdly, we must strive for intentional understanding and thoughtful dialogue with one another (ENGAGEMENT). Learning is only valuable if it helps us engage, dialog and connect with those unlike us – to learn about them, to learn from them, and to be enriched by them. Not in some sentimental way, but in a way where we acknowledge differences and then consider how that new knowledge can shape our own outlook and behavior. In doing so, we are empowered to see our common humanity, rather than simply being self-advancing individuals.

Finally, we must acknowledge that our education is never finished (LEARNING). It requires us to be a “work in progress,” driven to improving ourselves and growing together as a university, community, state and nation. Lifelong learning challenges us to disregard stereotypes and seek the “better angels” in both ourselves and others.

In writing this I acknowledge how my own life, condition and perspective has emerged through being a white male who has reached some level of prosperity. My experiences challenge me to be a leader who sees everyone equally and provides a place for students to learn, grow and express themselves. I firmly believe that whatever our identity or experiences, our shared aspiration as members of this MGA community should be to live out the values of our University.

My challenge to each of us is this: continue to be intentional in applying these principles of education and our institutional values to our lives, our nation and our world. When we return this Fall, let’s seek to further push ourselves, individually and collectively, toward a common bond. This work is not easy or simplistic – it is difficult, complicated and demanding. The way forward is not always well-defined and always leaves room for improvement. Those words define the kind of place a university is meant to be – a unified community strengthened by its diversity of experience and thought, where we grow, learn and stand strong as one.