To the University of Mary Washington Family:
Thank you for living our community values in your everyday lives in the midst of a global pandemic. Thank you for your unwavering commitment to social justice on campus, in the Fredericksburg community, and beyond. Thank you for lending your voices to righting wrongs and addressing the challenges of the past with a keen eye toward the promises of the future. Thank you for working tirelessly to make this world a better place for everyone.
Over the past few days, I have heard from several members of the Mary Washington community concerning a host of issues – most stemming from the systemic racism that’s embedded in the fabric of our nation – and the resulting injustices that have manifested themselves time and again throughout our troubled history. These injustices have caused immense pain and anguish for generations of African Americans. To our African American students, faculty, staff, and alumni, we stand in solidarity with you during these troubling times and we boldly proclaim that black lives matter.
We denounce the senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, George Floyd, and a multitude of men and women who have died unjustly simply because of the color of their skin. We denounce police brutality, unfair judicial practices, and all forms of institutionalized racism that have created deeply entrenched racial disparities in this country.
We stand by our Guiding Principles and Values. UMW is dedicated to providing a diverse, accepting, and supportive environment that holds all of its members to the highest standards of conduct, scholarship, integrity, inclusiveness, respect, and engagement. We live this by fighting against explicit and implicit bias and for equity and access.
Our students of color must feel safe and valued on the entire campus and not just in “safe places” like the James Farmer Multicultural Center. I have heard students tell me that seeing more faculty who look like them, who have their shared experiences, would go a long way toward creating a more inclusive community. The progress we have made on this front over the last couple of years is just a start, we must continue those efforts by recruiting and retaining more faculty of color.
At yesterday’s town hall with students and throughout the week, I have heard great disappointment, hurt, and anger regarding the presence of UMW police when city police used tear gas and other means to disperse protesters on the streets of Fredericksburg. We will conduct a full and independent review of the incidents this week to determine the role of UMW police. In the days to come, I will announce the nature of that review and will commit to transparency throughout the process. I have reached out to city officials, including the police chief, mayor, and city manager, to ensure that UMW can work with the city toward a better understanding of what happened that evening.
What I do know is the individuals we have assigned to the regional crisis response team are not certified to deploy tear gas. Chief Mike Hall and the police report indicate that our officers were called in to protect a building and did not participate in any efforts to disperse the crowd. If engagements are found to have taken place outside established protocols, I will take action. Our police officers are public servants who have taken an oath to protect and serve. Chief Hall and the UMW police force hold themselves to a higher standard because of the critical role they play in helping all members of our community go safely about their daily lives. We expect them to stand by the principles of good community policing, and we pledge to be transparent in all law enforcement matters as not to erode public trust.
On April 25, 2020, I published a column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. In it, I expressed hope that we come out of the pandemic with a better understanding of how meaning and purpose grow in direct proportion to how much we invest in other people’s lives. I expressed how grateful I am for this opportunity to lead an institution whose mission is to prepare students to contribute to a community built on values of justice, equal opportunity, and love for one another. I stated that “it is not by accident that the first pillar of UMW’s vision, An Investment of Hope for the Future, is to promote the values of service, community, and civic engagement.” Those are the means by which we build that “Beloved Community” envisioned by Dr. King.
During this great time of pain and sorrow, I have been so proud of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have stood up against systemic racism and for social justice. I stand with you as we carry on this fight in the name of love.