Dear Rackham Students,
I write to you following an extremely painful week that once again brought to the surface the existence of systemic racism and unjust acts of institutionalized violence in our country. I reacted bitterly to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of the police, along with the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. These violent acts are on top of a pattern of reports that once again magnify the risk that everyday encounters and interactions with police and fellow citizens carry for the Black community. These risks, and the effects of racism, are not just happening somewhere else; indeed, we have witnessed them within our local community.
I worry that to write these words might add to the pain for people of color who read them. I cannot understand what you experience in moments like these, and I know you do not need to hear from me to explain the significance and tragedy of this moment or the burden of this aspect of life as a person of color in our nation. Dr. Robert Sellers has worked extensively to further diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Michigan, first as a Rackham student, and now as a professor and our chief diversity officer. The words he published online last week moved me deeply. They caused me to reflect upon Rackham’s role in supporting your education, research, and engagement at a terrible moment such as this one.
In this way, I feel it is critical to acknowledge the suffering that many of you are experiencing, as well as your feelings of being targeted, isolated, or unvalued. I want to affirm that Rackham is committed to creating an environment in which all students feel safe, welcome, and supported. We are furthermore committed to providing you with the means and opportunity to develop as leaders who carry forward this work in your programs, through your chosen career paths, and in your personal lives.
This ongoing strategic work at Rackham to strengthen diversity is made even more urgent by the events of last week. As President Schlissel noted in his message to the university community on Friday, we absolutely need to bring about change. Our work seeks to improve your sense of inclusion and belonging in your programs. Some of these steps include our Faculty Allies initiative—with its accompanying Student Ally component—our Professional Development DEI Certificate program, and our support of Rackham student organizations who advocate and help to lead change. All of us at Rackham know there is much more work to be done, that we are constantly learning, and that we do not always succeed in meeting our goals and expectations. We know, however, that we cannot pursue this work to support you without thinking about how events outside Rackham harm members of our community disproportionately due to their race and ethnicity. As we respond to this difficult reality, we support advocacy, action, allyship, support, and leadership in the Rackham community.
I realize that the public health restrictions of COVID-19 have made it difficult for members of our community to come together as we normally would to voice concerns and help each other. We are exploring ways that we can engage and share ideas in the weeks ahead. As one example, I would like to encourage you to register for a Leading Equity and Diversity (LEAD) webinar Rackham is organizing this Friday, June 12, at 12:00 p.m. The conversation will center on how faculty, staff, and student leaders in higher education can address the trauma that marginalized populations in our community are facing due to racism and social injustice. I would also like to reiterate the university resources available to you at this incredibly difficult time. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) continues to offer both clinical services and crisis services. In addition, CAPS has an embedded staff member, Dr. Laura Monschau, dedicated to working specifically with graduate students.
Amid our current uncertainty, it’s impossible to know what the weeks and months ahead will bring. What I do know is that Rackham is united in our resolve to acknowledge and directly confront the persistent effects of racism on our nation, our colleagues, and our students.