To All Members of the Campus Community:
Some will wonder why I have taken so long to respond to the horrific events in Minneapolis and the protests in Sacramento. I did not want to respond until we had identified specific actions to combat the racism that we are experiencing at Sacramento State, in Sacramento, and in our nation.
A week and a half ago, many of us gathered virtually to discuss the impact of a video featuring a Sac State professor and his wife engaged in a deeply troubling and racially charged interaction with their neighbors. This abhorrent event occurred as our nation learned more about the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Since our town hall, we have seen a video where a white woman in New York’s Central Park called the police because Christian Cooper – a black man – asked her to leash her dog, and then a video showing George Floyd dying in Minneapolis under the knee of a policeman while Mr. Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe. Every police officer with whom I have spoken agrees that the behavior of the officer was unacceptable, dangerous, and wrong.
George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Eric Garner. Philando Castile. These names reflect just a handful of the high-profile, racially motivated incidents from the past few weeks and years, because there are too many names to recite in this long history of killings that remind many of us that as a nation, we often do not value black and brown lives. We now watch as protests once again occur across our nation for justice – for justice for those who have historically suffered while others, largely white individuals, have prospered. In this moment, I want to remember the death of Stephon Clark and how it has impacted our community and our students. We will never be the same.
The repetitive trauma that members of our community face is significant and unending. These are systemic problems that were created and are perpetuated by those in power, and let us acknowledge that most of those in power are white people. It is the responsibility of white people – including myself, who grew up in Montana and had the privilege to attend the University of Chicago and work at a job I love (be it teaching or now administration) – to fight racism and to end this pervasive culture that allows for such significant harm, especially against black communities.
In light of what is happening and in light of the rhetoric from our elected officials, it is clear that we cannot say that Sacramento State or any campus or community is a safe place for our black students, faculty, or staff. That is unacceptable. I like to think of myself as an ally and as someone who is working to make it better. It’s not enough. I must do more. There cannot be any space for inaction, and I must hold myself and my colleagues, all of my colleagues, white and people of color, to those same standards. The status quo, what we have done in the past, must change. Words matter, but words alone are nowhere near enough.
At the town hall, we heard from the former president of the Black Student Union, Adwoa Akyianu, who told us that she wanted our “apology in actions.” Her words have echoed in my head and in my heart since then, and I have spent much of this week thinking about how to change Sacramento State and make it a truly safe place for all populations and identities of people. I also am worried because we are expecting a ruling from the Supreme Court that could adversely affect our undocumented students who have strived so hard to make it to Sacramento State, and I am greatly troubled by the rise in anti-Asian bias during the COVID-19 crisis.
First and foremost, inclusion is not enough. We can work endlessly to create an inclusive environment, but without purposeful action by everyone, especially people who have lived for years under the protection of white privilege, to attack racism and bias, we will never achieve our goals. We have heard through many forums, convenings, and gatherings what members of our various communities need to feel safe on this campus. We have been told numerous times, yet we have failed to make the progress that is needed. Establishing the Division of Inclusive Excellence is not enough, nor is establishing the Martin Luther King Jr. Center or the Dreamer Resource Center. That failure is on me and our senior leadership. This work cannot be optional. People of color do not get an option when it comes to racism, and all of us – myself and my Cabinet and the entire administration – must commit to doing this work every day.
In consultation with the President’s Cabinet, the Faculty Senate, the Deans, the University Staff Assembly, and Student Affairs, we will be pursuing the following actions:
• Develop an anti-racism campus plan,
• Despite budget cuts, strategically invest in centers, programs, the Division of Inclusive Excellence, and other areas that already are doing this work on our campus — the budget cuts must not stop their work,
• Identify funding to hire an ombudsperson or advocate within the Division of Inclusive Excellence for people experiencing racism and bias on our campus,
• Support faculty and departments in building anti-racist curriculum and anti-bias pedagogy,
• Provide training, development, and learning opportunities for white community members to learn about actions they can take to fight racism and how they benefit from a racist system,
• Increase advocacy and partnership with the City of Sacramento and law enforcement to change the way our communities are policed,
• Pursue and provide ongoing learning and training about white allyship and our responsibilities to fight racism and bias wherever we see it,
• Support the efforts of the Division of Inclusive Excellence to create a bias-reporting tool to better track and address issues of racism or bias on campus, and,
• Examine our policies and processes to create anti-racist and inclusive practices.
There is much more to do to fight racism on our campus and in our community. In the fall, Sacramento State will hold a convocation where we will explore additional opportunities for continued action and work in this space. I take responsibility for where Sac State is, where our students are. We cannot put this burden on the back of the MLK Center, the Dreamer Resource Center, the Multicultural Center, the Women’s Resource Center, and all the ally groups. We must all commit to this work and commit to holding one another accountable for our actions (and inactions) that perpetuate racism, hate, bias, and violence in our communities and our country.
I am appalled by what I am reading on Twitter and other social media platforms. The Hornet Family will not be silent, and we must commit to changing the culture of our campus so that everyone who is a Hornet is safe.
Robert S. Nelsen