Wednesday, June 3, 2020
We are in the midst of several global, national and local crises that, together, represent a conflagration of social realities that are shifting how we work, live and exist together. The COVID-19 virus has revealed much about the tinderbox of inequities that have recently been set ablaze across our nation. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, have been a shameful reminder of the systemic and institutional racism that has long plagued our nation.
I, like so many, was appalled when watching the life drain from Mr. Floyd’s body. The actions inflicted by four police officers indifferent to the cries of a fellow human being were inexcusable. I have struggled, like many, to find explanations for how this could happen in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Mr. Floyd was not free to live, nor were the actions of the four officers’ brave in their sworn duty to protect and serve. I want to give heartfelt condolences to the Floyd family in particular, and all other families who have had to endure the senseless deaths of loved ones at the hands of sanctioned violence against the black community.
It is time for each of us to take a long hard look at our active or passive involvement in systems of oppression that have denied the full rights and privileges of full humanity to communities of color in the United States. The time for apathy, complacency and silence is over. I have two daughters who have made it abundantly clear over the past week that inactivity and “business as usual” are no longer privileges that any of us have the right to claim. As a white man, I will not presume to know the depth of hurt and pain that many in the black community have peacefully expressed over the past several days. Even for those choosing to more forcefully express their deep pain, I acknowledge that it is in response to 400 years of violence intended to render an entire part of our American community mute. I don’t condone the language and actions of violence, suppression and destruction. Over the past several days, it has become clear that the systems of slavery, Jim Crow and police brutality have left an indelible imprint on our collective consciousness. We all have a part to play in acknowledging and ultimately eradicating systems of racialized violence in the United States.
As dean of the College of IST, I want to affirm that Black Lives Matter. I stand with the black community, and I encourage everyone in the IST community to join me in doing all that is within your power to actively confront institutional and systemic racism that may live here. We have recently been reminded that our Penn State community is not immune from racially biased behavior as several students have been accused of publicly displaying verbal and symbolic messages of hate. Our college denounces messages of hate and stands with the rest of the Penn State community in affirming the dignity, humanity and rights of ethnically or racially diverse communities. I commit to open dialogue, and I encourage everyone to join me in listening to experiences and being a part of the change that we need.
In closing, a recent image impressed upon me a possible way forward. In Louisville, Kentucky, a group of white women locked arm-in-arm formed a physical barrier between black protesters and the police. The barrier created was a concrete action of support and solidarity that automatically answered the question of “what can I do.” May we look to be barriers like these brave women in the face of racial injustice. When those around us or on social media lament how uprisings are unfolding, be a linguistic barrier to remind them of the whole story. When it comes time to listen, be a barrier of care and concern against the devaluing noise of institutional racism. Be the brave in our land of the free.
Dr. Andrew Sears
Dean, College of Information Sciences and Technology