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June 5, 2020: Acknowledging Systemic Racism

June 5, 2020

 

Dear Members of the Middlebury Community, 

Once again, we are bearing witness to unconscionable acts of violence, rooted in racism, directed at Black people in the United States.

Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, George Floyd, and countless other Black people have been murdered. For their family, friends, and the Black community, here and around the world, grief and loss have been exacerbated by a literal witness to their death in media—something none of us needs or wants to see, but also knowing that without it, once again, justice would not be rendered. 

And still, justice has not been rendered.

These acts of violence are heartbreaking and inexcusable, individually and collectively, but they are also not isolated. They are the result of centuries of entrenched racism in a nation built on and maintained by unjust and inequitable systems of power, including the policies and practices of law enforcement. The Black community, in particular, has been on the receiving end of this historical and ongoing oppression and violence. We must stand up and state clearly that Black Lives Matter.

As I call on all of us to state that clearly—because our silence speaks just as loudly as our words—I also acknowledge that how we say it matters as well. I have received thoughtful and powerful feedback from many members of our community about the message I sent out last Sunday, including—and most important—from a collective of students who together voiced their concerns. I want to acknowledge those concerns and note that my letter failed to adequately address the magnitude of the situation. At a time when the Black community is experiencing profound pain, my letter did not focus enough on the root cause and specific harm. I apologize for not placing that front and center in my letter. I needed to name the specific and systemic violence experienced by Black people. I now understand that members of our community needed to hear that.

Many people of color experience systemic racism. At the same time, we must specifically name the ongoing oppression and violence directed at Black people, underscoring the need to center our work on the anti-Black racism that permeates our lives. 

I also want to acknowledge that Middlebury is a microcosm of the culture in which we live, which means that racism happens here. It happens in our residence halls and in our classrooms, at the tables of our dining halls and in our locker rooms, on our sidewalks, within the offices where we work, and in our town. It is simultaneously difficult, important, and necessary to acknowledge this truth, because until we acknowledge the extent of the work that needs to be done, we will always fall short of the change we must make happen to transform the daily, lived experiences of Black students, staff, and faculty, and our community at large. We have begun this effort and we will continue it. 

In my commitment to ensuring that this moves forward, let me speak directly to the members of our community:

To our Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni, I hear and recognize your anger, fear, and grief. I also acknowledge that while Middlebury has worked hard on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, it has not been immune to systemic racism or white supremacy. We are far from our goal of being an antiracist institution. We have a great deal to do. We are committed to that work and we understand that this must engage the entire institution. The effort to combat anti-Black racism on our campuses has long been done by Black students, faculty, and staff, but needs to be shouldered by the non-Black members of our community.

To the non-Black members of our community, I ask that you join me as true allies in developing deeper knowledge about racism, inequality, and the way oppression operates within our culture, within our institutions, and within ourselves. We must all take responsibility for this if we are to really change our institution. I realize that we are all at different stages of our learning process. For those who are not sure where to begin and for those who are looking for new ways to engage in this urgently needed work, we will follow up early next week with resources, activities, and next steps to help us move forward as individuals and as an institution.

I want to close by returning to the feedback voiced by students, in particular the proposals they have put forward as action steps to help further our efforts on our campuses. I think the proposals are excellent. I am eager to put them in place, and more as well, as we work together. First, the Senior Leadership Group will be open to meeting three times a semester with representatives from Black student organizations and their allies from cultural organizations who joined in solidarity to voice their concerns. Second, we will collaborate with student representatives on the College Board of Advisors to ensure that their voices and concerns are featured prominently and regularly in every agenda. 

I welcome your open and honest feedback and I pledge to continue the work that I, and the Senior Leadership Team, need to do to advance antiracism at Middlebury. I ask all students, staff, faculty, and alumni to join me as well.

 

Laurie Patton
President 

Office of the President

Old Chapel
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Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753
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president@middlebury.edu