Dear Members of the CCNY Community,
I am writing to join my voice, and the voice of the college that I represent, to the chorus of people who decry the murder of George Floyd, and call for a period of national transformation that will at long last provide security and equity for communities of color in our nation.
It is soul-wearying to review the sad, decades-long litany of incidents that should have encouraged us, as a people, along a more just and humane pathway. It is deeply horrifying to reflect on the innumerable occasions during which, but for the presence of a cell phone with a camera, a racist attack would have remained a victim's secret pain or a community's suppressed but routine experience. The clear evidence in video after video of how deep this poison runs is both incontrovertible and a deep scar on our national character: The things we now see on camera have happened off-camera for as long as we've lived together. Anyone listening with sympathy to descriptions of African Americans' lived experience would know that. Anyone cognizant of systematic repression in our society should have offered themselves up as an ally in the struggle. Anyone who is surprised by the existence, extent, and venom of racism in this country hasn't been paying attention.
As CCNY President, I write now with two specific purposes in mind. The first is to pledge, as an institution, to better educate, be better educated, and to act on the authority of that education. We must accept that the experience of racism in our world is so pervasive and varied, that our only recourse is to pay close and credulous attention to those around us: to offer support to those feeling pain, to redress grievances when we discover them, and above all to be interested, sympathetic and willing to accept the authority of someone else's experience.
Earlier this semester, when we were all together on campus, CCNY began working with the Sustained Dialogue Institute to develop a program that would encourage such conversations on campus, conversations that began with the premise that an interlocutor's experiences must be acknowledged as valid before any true degree of respect or understanding could emerge. As soon as we're able, that work must continue and deepen. Our campus security team has made, and will continue to make, progress in transforming their work towards a community policing model that supports wellbeing on campus and guards against excess of any kind, and I commend them in that work. We must embrace the idea that the community CCNY was founded to constitute—the community of the whole people—does not arise from our demographic diversity alone but from the everyday hard work of building understanding among people with diverse origins and experiences.
Second, I write to reposition where the struggle against racism must stand in our mission. As a public institution, CCNY must serve the public good, making our expertise and resources available as broadly and openly as possible. These resources must now, and with particular emphasis, direct themselves against racism in our society. What we write, where we speak, and how we ally ourselves must establish, wherever possible, where we stand and know on this crucial issue. Our teaching must, wherever possible, unmask the racialist myths that divide us and confront the racist attacks that enforce that division. I, therefore, ask faculty to seek out every opportunity to align their teaching with the mission of ending racism and to think long and hard about how we are equipping students to play a role in that effort. Similarly, our research and public programming must continue more deeply to take account of racist currents and seek to counteract them. We must also be prepared, and I am prepared, to join with friends and leaders in the community who call on the great institutions of the City to counteract racism. We will develop modes of work, in partnership with community actors, to translate that stand into productive action.
We have made much of our success in promoting social mobility, with good reason. I have linked that work to the founding aspirations of the Free Academy, and every development that since then has placed City College at the forefront of social change. Whatever those efforts have accomplished, and they have done so very much, they have not overwritten the basic realities of racial injustice in our society. And so, as we grieve the senseless and brutal murder of Mr. Floyd, we also must take up the lesson and the challenge of this moment, and fully embrace the fact that nothing we seek for our students, our society or ourselves can have a foundation in justice unless we commit to the anti-racist struggle.