A Message from VP for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fatiah Touray Regarding Race and Racism in America

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Dear Sarah Lawrence Community,

The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others are heartbreaking manifestations of the systems of oppression and the structural racism that shape life in the U.S. Generations of bereft families and communities know too well that our national fear of black skin and the entitlement that comes with having white skin are the foundation of largely unacknowledged systemic racism that shortens and violently ends the lives of people of color.  Amidst the current global health crisis, more than 100,000 people have died in the U.S. Within this nation, Black, Indigenous, and Latiné people are sickening and dying at disproportionately high rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To quote Michelle Obama as she discusses race and racism in America, “If we ever hope to move past it, it can't be on people of color to deal with it. It is up to all of us—black, white, everyone—no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own.” As we self-examine we should ask ourselves these difficult questions and what Van Jones asks us to critically assess: What concrete actions are we taking in our everyday lives to fight against prejudice and promote belonging? How are we actively educating ourselves on the history and legacy of white supremacy in this country? How do we all together create a society where those with black bodies can live life without fear?

President Judd ended her letter to the community this weekend by stating that “naming injustice is not enough, but to ignore injustice is to perpetuate it.” Many of you have written to ask about the things you can do to institute change.  Here are some action steps you can take:

Participate: Dissent is a critical component of a liberal arts education. Protest is a powerful form of expression of dissent; march if you feel moved to do so.  Please be safe: there is guidance for safe practice at protests (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) here, here, and here.  If you are unable to march, write, speak, talk to others—find ways to make your voice heard.

Educate: If you are not familiar with the deep history and legacy of violence against the Black community in the United States, and how this has a powerful impact on the lives of all Black Americans, this is a good time to study. For history, we’d recommend Ibrahim X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning or Jill Nelson’s Police Brutality: An Anthology as places to start.  For policy proposals to reform policing, see Campaign Zero. If poetry is where you’d like to start, read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen or Evie Shockley’s “can’t unsee.” If you prefer podcasts, try this episode of Code Switch, or an episode of the Ezra Klein podcast on health disparities by race. If you have access to Netflix you can watch The 13th or When They See Us. You can also plan to take a  course with our Sarah Lawrence faculty in Africana Studies and Ethnic and Diasporic Studies and be part of conversations about race taking place across our curriculum at the College.

Support: If you have the means, lend support to those who are struggling. This can take the form of simple outreach and emotional support. It can involve volunteering for efforts to reform the justice system and make it more equitable. It can mean contributing to efforts to support protests or support communities that have been impacted by the protests. One of  SLC's core values is being an inclusive, intellectually curious, and diverse community. We will continue to ensure that these values appear in our institutional policies and educational priorities, and we can use the lessons of these events to examine and propose a continuous change.

Throughout the coming weeks, we will provide additional virtual opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to come together for support and engagement. A resources page on MySLC is forthcoming. If you need further support, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion or the Health and Wellness Center.

In Solidarity,

Fatiah Touray
Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Special Assistant to the President

Many of of the sources listed in this e-mail were recommendations from the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers Consortium

About Sarah Lawrence College

Founded in 1926, Sarah Lawrence is a prestigious, coeducational liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the leading liberal arts colleges in the country. Sarah Lawrence is known for its pioneering approach to education, rich history of impassioned intellectual and civic engagement, and vibrant, successful alumni. In close proximity to the unparalleled offerings of New York City, the historic campus is home to an intellectually curious and diverse community.