Addressing the Violence and Racism our Country has Experienced Recently

Dear USF Community,

I have been struggling to find the words to address the horrifically evil events that have taken place in our country this week and over the past month.
How to understand the death of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers on a Minneapolis street? How to understand the inhumanity of Amy Cooper and the noble humanity of Christian Cooper in the confrontation in Central Park? 

What makes these events even more overwhelming are the many other violent events our country has experienced recently, including the killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky; of Steven Taylor in San Leandro, Sean Reed in Indianapolis, Tony McDade in Tallahassee, and Adrian Medearis in Houston. And this is in addition to the terrible toll COVID-19 is taking on communities of color. These events and the underlying racism are not simply unacceptable; they are tearing the fabric of our society. 

I write to our entire university community, with a special word of care for our Black-identified students and colleagues, and with a request: let us pray for each other, cherish each other, stand up for each other, and change the world for the better for each other. I know that I cannot put off the privileges of my particular identity, but I can ask for the grace to have empathy and compassion, and to live in solidarity with all who rightfully are frightened, exposed, and traumatized. As our country faces the reality of the alarming rise of anti-Asian xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Black violence during the pandemic, as members of the USF community, we are invited to contrast these social ills with our values: our Jesuit mission of solidarity with the oppressed and hope for the common good.

Normally I would ask that we come together in vigils, marches, and rallies to support one another with palpable care. The shelter-in-place order prevents these demonstrations of solidarity. So, we must make other plans, beginning on Wednesday, June 3, from 12 to 1:15 p.m., when we will come together for a virtual vigil for racial justice and reconciliation. And of course, CAPS, CASA, faculty advisers, mentors, student leaders, and peer supporters are reaching out and stepping up. Thank you for enacting our shared identity.

In these difficult days, I invite us all to use our privileges — especially our educated minds, our loving hearts, and our stiff backbones to combat racism. I believe that the larger social role of a Jesuit university today is more important, and more promising, than ever. We are a contrast society, a city on a hill, a light to the nations. As change agents, let us take some important actions.

Reach out and communicate with your family, friends, and university companions.
I know that many of you have reached out to your circle already. I’ve heard from many people this week that they are looking to their friends and colleagues to provide strength, kindness, and a great courage of conviction. Now is an important time to reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion and to denounce racism.

Keep diversity, equity, and inclusion at the top of the agenda.
As we work to reimagine our university in the midst and in the wake of the pandemic, we must make sure we don’t pull back our focus on justice. We know that the agenda has never been longer, and our priorities are many. But, as a community, we need to keep justice as a top priority. As an international community, our commitment to equity and diversity is international in scope.

Pull together your communities to have conversations of understanding.
One of the things I’ve learned from our beloved community is how often fear is a part of the everyday experience for members of historically underrepresented and socially marginalized groups. Running errands, driving to work, jogging or walking in a park are activities that for some people can quickly become dangerous situations of confrontation, denunciation, or death. While we can’t be together in person, we must be intentional in having these conversations virtually, whether to give voice to the fears and frustrations many are feeling or to offer support. Please consider holding conversations of understanding in your units, departments, and among your circle of family and friends in the coming weeks. To help facilitate these conversations, the Office of Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI) has resources available for you and your colleagues, and new ones will be added next week.

One final thought
Each one of us has the immense opportunity to make choices each day that either make our university and our world more inclusive and equitable — or not. As USF lives through this summer of remote work and study, as we prepare for very difficult financial challenges brought on by COVID-19, as we prepare to return to campus in the fall, there has never been a more crucial time for us to use our influence to lead and acknowledge that being outraged without action is not enough. We need to roll up our sleeves and help each other navigate this increasingly complex social environment, allowing the light of our ideals to show us the way forward, together. 

Thank you for all you do.

You are in my prayers.

Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J.
Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J.