University plays important role in shaping future of community
I have spent the last several days watching with growing concern as the situation surrounding the death of George Floyd has unfolded before us on the national stage. In particular, I was shocked by the senseless and violent nature of his death. Coming as it did on the heels of other senseless deaths like those of Ahmaud Aubrey, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and countless others, it is not surprising that demonstrations erupted or that those demonstrations have spread across our country and the world.
Our country’s history of racism is a complicated one, and while we have made sporadic progress, it is clear there is much to be done. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The hurt and anger of the unheard are boiling to the surface right now, and there is an important question to answer: How do we now open our ears to hear?
Even so, it seems to me that something must be done, and there is a part for all of us to play. The University of Houston-Victoria can play a constructive role in finding and exploring solutions, not just for our students and campus community, but also for the Victoria and Crossroads communities of which we are a part. At a time like this, we have a responsibility to use our collective knowledge and intellectual resources to help heal wounded communities – to help people hear and understand each other. As I have struggled with this, I think about what Dr. King said next in that same speech: “What is it that America has failed to hear?” This is where UHV can play a part in the healing, and the current situation offers an opportunity for us to step up to the challenge.
Public higher education has a role to play in shaping the future. Part of that is in bringing students into contact with exceptional faculty members who can prepare them to be competitive in the fields they have chosen. But, no one is a professional in a vacuum. We live in a participatory republic, and we have an obligation as individual citizens for the care and nurture of our democratic society. Public higher education originally was founded on the notion that education was an investment society makes in itself because democracy is challenging and requires thoughtful participation and clear, deliberate choices.
I know that UHV faculty members in the School of Arts & Sciences already make social justice central to their instruction. The School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development always has been committed to preparing educators by equipping them to meet the needs of a diverse population and value every child, a bedrock principle of who we are and what we do. And School of Business Administration faculty members are addressing these issues in ways that are appropriate to the concept of business ethics. But, should we make diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility central to everything we do as a university, particularly a Hispanic-serving, minority-majority university? I would say we can, and we should. Higher education has a moral and ethical responsibility to extend beyond the immediate circle of students and into the surrounding communities, and although we have done that since our founding, UHV will increase our efforts to serve you – the community where our students live. Indeed, the university cannot be healthy if the community is not.
I will be asking the UHV Faculty Senate, Staff Council and Student Government Association to help me appoint a task force to examine the university’s obligations and responsibilities in the area of service and public affairs with a specific focus on the impact of systemic racism and how we can work to eradicate it. One thing the task force will be looking at is the kinds of programmatic solutions we can offer the region. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any topics you would like us to include in our programming, and I will make sure the task force gets your suggestions. This will not be a rubber-stamp task. This group will be charged with presenting concrete solutions that get to the root of systemic racism inherent in our community. We, as a UHV community, will walk the walk and talk the talk.
Our country must do a better job, as Dr. King asserted, to hear the unheard. We have an obligation as a university to help our students and our community develop the skills to do so. I look forward to getting more input on this important issue.