Dear CWRU community:
Over the past week, I too have been grappling with my personal and professional feelings about the oppressive weight of racism in our society, crystalized by the brutal murder of George Floyd. I am not one to speak when the field has been covered, as was the case when our President Barbara Snyder and our Provost Ben Vinson so eloquently shared their message on Sunday evening. I could not have said it better. Albeit, friends and colleagues have shared other university messages of presidents and chief diversity officers across the country, prompting me to ask the question, “what more can I say?”
I’ve realized that being new to CRWU, most of you do not know me and it is important for you to know where I stand. It is important for you to know that I share the values and commitment of our president and provost; the inclusive excellence values of CWRU. I also believe it is important for you to know that I feel the same frustration and exhaustion as you and I care about how this time of crisis impacts our students, staff and faculty.
As an African American man and father of a 24-year-old son and a 22-year-old daughter, the recent tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Atatianna Jefferson and George Floyd have caused me great anguish. However, I did not need these and countless other horrific incidents of racist violence to know that racism is alive and well in America. I have been racially profiled myself, as well as most members of my family, countless friends, colleagues and former students. It is an unacceptable weight that we of black and brown skin have learned to live with. Nearly all of us can recall getting “the talk” from our parents and elders, guiding us on how to interact with the police to preserve our lives. Moreover, we have given “the talk” to our own children, knowing that still it is not a guarantee that your children will return home safely.
However, we must also understand that the scourge of racism is not only advanced by cruel acts of violence through police brutality, lynching and murder; it is also advanced by structural racism which has produced health disparities, economic disparities and achievement gaps. There are myriad American systems in place that continue to produce inequitable results. It is also advanced by white supremacist ideologies which decry and chide notions of social justice, equity, diversity and equality. It is advanced by those who promote the status quo and those who glorify the good old days when separate was never equal and Jim Crow laws ruled the land. It is in this context that America has erupted like a volcano which has reached its boiling point.
Now we are all asking ourselves, “Where do we go from here?” To move forward, we must also acknowledge that while the death of George Floyd was the catalyst for our current protests, it is only the tip of the iceberg. All of the decades of pain, frustration, anger, sadness and hopelessness have come to a head. We have been in this cycle time and time again and have experienced no sustained appreciable change. America is tired of pretty words and empty promises. America is demanding action.
Despite my anguish, I believe there is hope. I believe this is a watershed moment in our history. As Frederick Douglass once said, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will…if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” I believe our current struggles can produce progress, but we must move beyond words. We must continue to bring pressure to bear on every facet of America to produce the progress we demand. The protests we see are born out of centuries of pain and oppression, both experienced and witnessed. Black and Brown are not the only victims of the scourge of racism. All of America has been victimized and it will require all of us to find solutions. It will require all of us to ensure that sustained change and progress truly happens.
At CWRU, I vow to build upon the foundation of inclusive excellence built by President Snyder, Provost Vinson, Dr. Marilyn Mobley, Dr. Joy Bostic and countless faculty, staff, students and alumni trailblazers. I believe diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice are essential to the excellence of our community, culture, and curriculum. I recognize the pursuit of this excellence requires thoughtful, deliberate, and sustained action and that this effort is critical to our educational mission.
Yes, I value diversity in all of its dimensions including gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, identity, physical and learning abilities, socio-economic status and view point. As the CWRU Chief Diversity Officer, I will seek to reflect these multiple perspectives, backgrounds, and interests in all facets of our community, recognizing that faculty, staff and students who are exposed to and embrace diversity are better prepared to engage in a pluralistic world.
Let us strive to be an inclusive community in which each individual feels safe, respected, and valued. By building a community that values similarities and differences among its constituents, we can embody in our actions and in our relations with one another the principles of equity and justice as well as the values of honesty, respect, compassion, responsibility and fairness.
Exposure to multiple, and even sometimes competing points of view will best equip our students to explore, understand and apply complex concepts, building the basis for a rigorous education. By weaving diversity into the fabric of our curriculum and culture, we can equip our students with the interpersonal and critical thinking skills that are essential to success in the complex, multicultural world in which we live. By creating a critical mass of diversity among our faculty and staff, we will model true inclusive excellence for our underrepresented minority students and our majority students as well.
Let us work shoulder to shoulder to influence this community by asking who is here and who is missing in our student body, faculty and staff. Let us shape the CWRU culture by being united to create an atmosphere of opportunity and fairness for all. Let us create a climate where everyone feels welcomed, safe and valued. And finally, let us continue to build a topnotch curriculum which not only expands the substantive knowledge of our students, but also challenges them to be critical thinkers, exposed to a wide range of views and perspectives. Let us turn the collective pain we have been suffering into purpose and our purpose into sustainable progress.
Let us be ready to inquire, learn and engage. OIDEO, in collaboration with many other university offices, colleges and committees will be offering opportunities to learn, grow and exchange ideas; share perspectives, innovate and be a part of the change we seek. Remember to refer to the CWRU web page referred to by President Snyder and Provost Vinson at https://case.edu/raceandjustice/ for resources which promote social justice, as well as the OMA and OIDEO web pages for additional resources on equity, diversity and inclusive practices. Thank you for welcoming me to CWRU. I look forward to meeting each of you in person.
Yours in Unity, Strength and Inclusive Excellence,
Robert L. Solomon, Esq.
Office of Inclusion Diversity & Equal Opportunity