May 31, 2020

Presidential statement on racism

Dear Goucher community –

As I am sure you are well aware these last few weeks have been extremely troubling and disturbing for many of our African American friends, classmates, colleagues, and co-workers.

To put it simply, being Black in America right now feels like a death sentence.

If our African American, Latinx, Asian American, and Native American classmates and colleagues didn’t first have to deal with a once-in-a-century global pandemic that, due to years of systemic racism and socioeconomic disenfranchisement is exacting a disproportionate toll on Black and brown communities nationwide, these same communities now have to fear for their lives in a way that we have not seen in America for years.

This past week it was George Floyd. A week before it was Ahmaud Arbery. Before that Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin… the list goes on.

This is not a new conversation, nor an unexpected development given the absence of moral leadership in America right now. These seeds of racism and hate were planted in America 400 years ago, but unless we have the courage to confront this awful truth as a nation and as a community, we will be haunted by it forever more.

Perhaps we’ve reached a point where enough Americans are finally asking themselves: when does it stop?

Perhaps. But we’ve been here before, haven’t we? And still no reprieve from the kind of horrific act we witnessed in Minneapolis last week.

Some in the Goucher community may ask, what does this have to do with me?

I would answer: a lot. First and foremost, it has to do with the loss our community is feeling due to the social isolation we’ve all experienced these past few months. Now add to that sense of loss and isolation the foreboding, fear, and righteous anger that many of our Black classmates and colleagues feel right now.

Now, more than ever, we have to be there for one another. Reach out. Don’t assume everyone is okay, because I can guarantee you they are not. I have heard from many of you and understand the conflicting feelings of loss, anger, and fear you are experiencing.

We have a lot of work ahead of us; to keep our community safe in the midst of a pandemic, but also to realize the type of community I believe we all aspire to create and sustain.

Last June, when I agreed to become Goucher College’s next president, I knew I was inheriting an unfinished project. We have much to be proud of with a great tradition of innovative firsts and a commitment to social justice. But as a community we are far from perfect. There is much work to be done and it won’t be easy. It will require a sustained commitment from all of us.

Last July we began that work when our Board of Trustees voted to amend and refile the original 1921 deed to the land we occupy today to remove the racist language in it that was common practice in Maryland during the Jim Crow era.

We also launched the multi-year Hallowed Ground project to gain a better understanding of the enslaved people who lived, worked, and died upon our land and the adjoining Hampton National Historic Site in the years before slavery was abolished. This spring we appointed a visiting professor of archaeology who will work with professor James Dator and students to help realize this effort.

We have introduced mandatory unintentional bias training for all staff and faculty. We have also launched the Goucher Summer Academy — now debuting in summer 2021 due to the pandemic — with the aim of easing the transition from high school into college for our first generation, low-income, and traditionally under-represented students and increasing the rate at which they graduate from Goucher.

We also are in the final stages of hiring a new Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Title IX, a position I created to help us focus and accelerate our efforts at systemic change across the college.

As our student body has become increasingly diverse with over 40% of our undergraduate student population now students of color and almost 25% self-identifying as African American, I’ve made it very clear that we need to diversify our staff and faculty as well — a mandate that already appears to be producing results: of the fourteen most recent faculty, director-level, or vice-president-level staff hires, eleven have been women, three men, and eight people of color. All this gives me great hope that we are building an experienced and diverse team that will help to drive decision-making at Goucher in the years to come.

To our students, staff, and faculty who have chosen for good reasons to participate in peaceful demonstrations across America to end racism and in support of systemic change, I say, stay safe.

To everyone else, I say, step up and volunteer to engage in the substantive collegewide conversation we need to have this fall about the ways Goucher College can fully support this change in furtherance of our own mission. We would all welcome your participation.

All my very best to each and every one of you, but most especially to our Black students, faculty, and staff and their families during these most difficult times.

– Kent

Kent Devereaux, President