President's Message on George Floyd

June 1, 2020

Dear Westminster College Community,

Earlier today, the Salt Lake City curfew imposed by Mayor Mendenhall was lifted. You are now free to go about your daily business.

Unless you’re Black, that is.

We all have experienced restrictions on our movement because of COVID-19. Many of us may have felt fearful, knowing that being in public spaces could cost us our health, and possibly our lives. But what if we experienced fear every day, knowing that the very structures and policies ostensibly created to protect us may, in fact, kill us?

For those of us in the white majority, the inherent racism that permeates much of our cultural imagery and economic systems sits outside of our daily experience. For African-Americans, the killing of George Floyd is one in a chain of horrific murders against the backdrop of disproportionate economic impacts, risks, and deaths caused by COVID-19. Those of us with the greatest power and privilege have the most responsibility to address the conditions leading to public outrage; instead, we are given the cover of name-calling (“thugs”), the protection of state-sanctioned violence (shoot the looters), and the safety of our homes (“lockdown”).

Let’s not be distracted by opportunists who capitalize on outrage for personal gain. We should expect the outrage to continue, because our public responses focus exclusively on reactions to contain and control, when we also need to understand and change the conditions that lead to outrage. There’s significant work in addressing systemic racism to be done by anyone who claims to embrace equity, respect for human dignity, and care for common humanity, but particularly to be done by those of us who identify as white.

We can start by taking personal responsibility for learning about our own biases; we all have them. Do your own reading about systemic racism, white fragility, and forming alliances; don’t ask a Black person to teach you. Give the power and privilege you have to others, rather than retreating and protecting all that we have. Take advantage of the teachable moment conversation, “Social Unrest in a Global Pandemic,” hosted on Thursday at noon by our Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Tamara Stevenson, with Westminster faculty experts in public health, philosophy, and trauma and restorative justice. This kind of response, bringing together collective expertise across the academy, informed by lived experience, to generate effective strategies of social change is what we do best.

We all may be stressed right now, fearful for our health, safety, and security, but the impact of that stress disproportionately affects Black people. Once we behave as if Black lives matter, all lives will matter more.

President Bethami Dobkin, PhD