June 5, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
I start today by acknowledging something that a few weeks ago seemed unthinkable. COVID-19 is not my top concern for the university. The events of the recent ten days have done something that COVID-19 could not do: namely, expose open wounds of division and heartache, open wounds of inequity and unfairness, and make me afraid for the future of our students, particularly our students of color.
As I have talked to students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and watched endless coverage, read Twitter feeds, and watched other presidents and leaders weigh in across the country, I have grappled with how to respond and how to lead an institution in a time like this. Our students, faculty, staff, and alumni of color, especially, are hurting, angry, and burdened by recent events. We all witness these terrible experiences and grieve alongside our students and colleagues. On social media we see expressions, in some cases, strong negative feelings, about the level of support that the university provides to students of color. I have been reaching out to students, on Zoom, in emails, phone calls, and directly on social media to learn more about those criticisms and how we can do better to support Black students. We have a lot of work to do and we must quicken our pace as the cry for change is upon us now to make meaningful improvements. I know that change doesn’t happen overnight but I am committed to push us all to work to get better for as long as it takes.
Our Black students and their lives matter. Our community cares about them and wants to see them free from racism and inequities. That has to start on our campus. As an initial step, we have a plan for a new location for our Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that will be more accessible and visible. We recognize that it needs a more prominent location on campus, with increased programming and support for all. We will devote more resources to this effort and support the Center to lead us in this area. We must all participate in training, bring in experts to help us learn, and rededicate ourselves to our students’ needs to move the campus toward being more inclusive.
I am thankful that we have each other. The community that many of you have helped to build for many decades is a strong place where relationship and connection help us through difficult times. We are not perfect and definitely not flawless. We continue to work on making Mars Hill University stronger through guidance, love, attention, and continued soul searching.
I just wanted you to know where my heart is today and know that we, as educators, must address these issues now.