To paraphrase our University leadership in a message sent to the campus community: “This year has been one of the most difficult in our nation’s […] history.” Like many of you, I have been on an emotional rollercoaster over the past few months as we have endured the ongoing pandemic, escalating violence against Asians and Asian Americans, and ongoing assaults on the well-being and lives of African Americans. This week, we have witnessed the latest chapter in that narrative with the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who has been convicted in the murder of George Floyd. While some of you may be feeling relief or even joy after hearing the verdict, others may be anxious or even afraid. Please consider reaching out to the Diversity and Student Success team in The Graduate School, as they have resources that may be helpful to graduate students who seek a supportive community. Our colleagues at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) are available to help students with the emotional trauma that these events have engendered. The CAPS Multicultural Health Program centers on the needs of Black, Indigenous, and Student of Color at UNC-Chapel Hill. Student Wellness offers a variety of programs and trainings that can both promote well-being and provide a sense of community for graduate students. I encourage graduate students to reach out to these and the other resources mentioned in the statement from University leadership. Please know you are not alone, but rather are part of the supportive community that we are building together.
Last summer, I posed the following question in a statement released in the wake of George Floyd’s murder: “How do we move beyond the siloed interpretations and judgments that have limited our ability to address the disparities that are sewn into the fabric of our nation?” Yesterday’s verdict may be the first step in that direction, but I am certain it is not enough. Our nation is at the beginning of a very long journey, and each and every one of us has a role to play in ensuring its success. We must continue the conversations and activism that were sparked following Mr. Floyd’s murder. We should strive to be both active and humble listeners, even when the message is at odds with our own beliefs and values. We need to get and stay educated by reading, watching, and listening to a diverse array of opinions and interpretations of the facts. We must hold our leaders accountable for the ills in society that they have the power to address, recognizing that we may need to step into leadership roles ourselves if they fail to do so. We need to check our privileges and biases and admit that they are as integral to who we are as are our beliefs and personalities—and that it is our responsibility to acknowledge, manage, and mitigate their impacts. We need to call out injustice, bigotry, and hatred whenever and wherever we see them. We cannot allow those societal ills to lurk in dark corners; instead, they must be brought into the light where they can be dismantled.
In my message last summer, I called on you, my colleagues, to “…hold our leaders and each other accountable for the changes in approach, attitude and action that will be necessary to achieve the ‘liberty and justice for all’ that we espouse in our Pledge of Allegiance.” Today, I ask that of you again and recommit myself and The Graduate School to that important endeavor. The Graduate School stands ready to participate in the tough conversations that are ahead of our campus community, both as speaker and as a humble listener. We look forward to partnering with students, faculty, alumni, and community members as we identify actions needed to affect the change that is needed on our campus and beyond. And, we invite you to hold us accountable as we do our part to work toward that change.
Suzanne Barbour, PhD
Dean of The Graduate School