To the UMass community,
I share my thoughts today not just as the leader of the University of Massachusetts system, but as a human being stunned and deeply saddened by the brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
The chancellors on our five campuses have eloquently stated their views on this tragedy throughout the week, and on Wednesday, UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Robert Johnson shared a powerful and personal letter about his own experiences with racism.
Having taken some time to reflect and reach out, I write on behalf of the entire UMass system to collectively and strongly condemn police brutality, systemic racism and racial injustice in all its forms, and to reaffirm the university’s commitment to creating an atmosphere of inclusivity and equality on our campuses, where all people feel respected, valued and safe, and racism and intolerance have no place.
At UMass, we fundamentally believe that diversity strengthens us as a university and a society. We believe that varied perspectives, backgrounds and experiences enrich our communities and create vital opportunities for learning and growth, and we believe that all people — no matter their race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status or any other factor — deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
But we also recognize that words are not enough. Platitudes and statements of belief won’t eradicate racism, and they won’t heal our society or stop senseless murders from occurring. This is a moment that is calling us all to change — and to act.
I do not pretend to have all the answers. But I do believe that each of us, working in our own spheres of influence, can find ways to make a difference. We can treat every individual we encounter with respect. We can call out racism when we see it. We can confront and examine our own biases. We can have the difficult conversations, and most importantly, we can listen. We can stand up for those who are marginalized. We can take concrete steps to increase diversity and inclusion in our workplaces. We can support organizations dedicated to change. We can vote. And we can work to reform the policies and repeal the laws that hold systemic inequities in place and perpetuate injustice.
I also believe our five UMass campuses can serve as powerful catalysts for growth and transformation. As the Commonwealth’s public research university, dedicated to the betterment of citizens and society, UMass plays a crucial role in battling racism and creating a more just, equitable world. We educate the future leaders in criminal justice, public policy and conflict resolution; our scholars study and address racial injustice and inequity through their work; we serve and uplift marginalized communities, and so much more.
There is outstanding work being done in the realm of racial justice across the UMass system, and it is work we will continue to build on. On Wednesday, UMass Amherst announced a series of initiatives to combat racism and support diversity, equity and inclusion. Earlier today, UMass Boston’s Police Department announced the formation of a new Police Community Advisory Board comprised of students, faculty and staff that will enhance the relationship between the police department and the university community. In the days and weeks ahead, I will be talking with all five chancellors to identify ways we can enhance our efforts to support equality and address systemic racism, and I welcome ideas from each of you as to how we can achieve these goals.
I know this is a deeply painful moment for our society. I believe it’s also a watershed moment that will force us to reckon with our long history of racism and racial injustice. What we witnessed in those 8 minutes and 46 seconds when Derek Chauvin casually ended George Floyd’s life in broad daylight cannot be unseen, and it should not be forgotten.
The lives of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Atatiana Jefferson, and so many other victims of racial violence, should not be forgotten. Their lives mattered. Black lives matter.
For too long, the nation’s ideals of liberty and justice have only been reserved for some. I believe we can and must do better. I look forward to working together as a university community to continue our good work and inspire progress and lasting change in our society.
Martin T. Meehan ’78
President, University of Massachusetts