Sent June 3, 2020, 10:00 a.m.
Dear Gonzaga Students, Faculty, and Staff:
I write to provide you with information that is, and will be, of concern and importance to everyone in our community.
As you are aware, a Black Lives Matter protest was held this past Sunday in Spokane, catalyzed by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The protest was an opportunity to show support for, and solidarity with, the local and national Black communities, and to bring our own community together to fight racism and advocate for justice for those Black men and women who have died in police custody. Many Spokane citizens turned out to support this protest, including a number of Gonzaga students, faculty and staff (our family also was there). Originating in Riverfront Park and ultimately proceeding to the County Courthouse and Public Safety Building, it was a gathering that saw Spokane come together in a powerful show of unity and solidarity.
Later the same night, this energetic, peaceful demonstration of solidarity was replaced by nighttime vandalism and looting by individuals with intentions to cause disruptions and destroy property. It is clear that these individuals were not the same who were involved in the earlier protest. The photos of protestors and law enforcement engaging in respectful dialogue earlier in the day were replaced by photos of smashed windows and tear gas. A downtown curfew, and the presence of the Washington National Guard, were instituted in the City of Spokane. Despite the events that followed, they did not replace, and they will not erase, the afternoon’s well-organized peaceful protest and expression of unity.
The following day (Monday) – following receipt of intelligence reports that outlined the potential for organized groups from outside of the area to potentially take advantage of the current moment to incite violence and create unrest (including the possible use of incendiary devices) – the Spokane Police Department Bomb Squad requested permission to bring two unmarked trucks and one unmarked van to campus. Although there is no indication that Gonzaga was a specific target, the potential for the threat of violence to move north and onto campus was also a factor in this request. These vehicles and personnel were intended to only be used to repel such threat or continued unrest; they were not in place to disrupt any peaceful protest activity. Our Campus Security and Public Safety (CSPS) officers felt that in addition to supporting the SPD’s preparations for the possibility of additional violence in the downtown core, this accommodation allowed Gonzaga to utilize SPD’s presence as a deterrent to protect our campus community from the outside groups seeking to disrupt peaceful protests, and so agreed to their request.
While the residents of the Kennedy Apartments were alerted to the planned presence of Spokane Police Department personnel and vehicles, an inadequate amount of information regarding the circumstances and purpose for their presence was provided. Given all that has occurred in our nation over the past several days, it is very important that Gonzaga provide information and rationale regarding decisions which – although made with the goal of more effectively protecting our campus community – could increase our collective anxiety, particularly when it involves the presence of law enforcement. By Monday evening, I began to hear expressions of concern from students. We should have been much clearer and more accurate in our communications to explain the situation and to try to allay any fears and concerns, particularly for students who are or may be feeling quite vulnerable given the current local and national environment. The Spokane Police Department withdrew its vehicles from Kennedy before midnight Monday night, and in response to our request have agreed not to stage them on campus.
On behalf of our University, I want to apologize to our students and community members for the lack of sufficient communication and information in this situation. In retrospect it is clear – despite best intentions – that the management of this situation was insensitive to students who are feeling traumatized in light recent events. Gonzaga is a university deeply committed to justice and works actively to understand hate and end systemic racism. We are completely committed to the safety and well-being of our students, and it is particularly important to me that our students feel listened to, and their voices heard. As a University, we want to do everything possible to support every one of our community members, and each other, through this incredibly difficult time.
Provost González and I have asked our colleagues in Student Development, together with the two of us, to partner with others across campus to create opportunities for our community to process, discuss, and listen to each other regarding the current crisis. I have asked Dr. Raymond Reyes, Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer, to collaborate with GSBA President Fese Elango and other student, faculty and staff leaders to coordinate these activities designed to continue this important process. Additional information will be provided as the opportunity for these is created.
Again, I wish to underscore my sincere apologies to everyone affected by the situation at Kennedy on Monday night. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have questions, concerns, or thoughts about these matters.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.