Our Shared Commitment to Engaging and Addressing Issues of Racism, Prejudice and Discrimination

Juneteenth, 2020

Dear Gonzaga University Community Members:

Today, June 19th, is a day that is recognized as the oldest national commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. It was on this date in 1865 that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas with the news that the Civil War had ended, and to formally announce to the people of Texas that the formerly enslaved people were free. From that first Juneteenth – as both the day and commemoration are known – to the present day, many communities and families have annually celebrated this as an important event at which Black freedom and achievement are celebrated, and the hopes and dreams of a better future, and a better world, nurtured. 

To me, this day is also an opportunity to recognize that in the four centuries since the first enslaved Africans came to North America, and a full century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the legal freedoms granted by that Proclamation to those formerly enslaved was quickly followed by the failures of the post-war Reconstruction era, new expressions of white supremacy (which included the formation of the Ku Klux Klan), and the perpetration of violence upon successive generations of Black individuals and families through lynching, city riots and massacres, arson, bombings, and racial segregation. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s obtained certain hard-won rights for Black Americans, but the behavioral and social evidence of prejudice and systematic discrimination persist in our country.

In the weeks since the horrific killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and – earlier this spring, Breonna Taylor, among numerous other Black Americans just this year – thousands of people have taken to the streets in communities across the nation, enraged and compelled to speak loudly against discrimination and injustice, particularly as it is reflected in long-standing tensions at the intersection of racism, law enforcement, the justice system, and civil liberties. Some from our own community have taken part in such public demonstrations, seeking to both make an impact and stand in solidarity with those who have suffered injustice in this country. In the context of this significant national moment, and on this day of national commemoration, we must affirm: Black Lives Matter.

Our Jesuit tradition tells us that a condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. So how do we fight the racism pandemic that has plagued our country for hundreds of years since its inception and face the truth about institutional racism and structures of oppression?  Many of us have been asking “what can I do?” even as many colleagues of color have expressed fatigue at being the ones who feel burdened with the responsibility for educating the white majority on racism and the experience of being minoritized in our culture. The research on intercultural fluency, antiracism activism, and confronting discrimination is clear in emphasizing that a critical step toward racial justice and equity-mindedness is “self-education.” All social change begins at the individual level, with listening – a learning that informs action. And thus, the relevance to our Jesuit mission, to reflect the tradition of “contemplatives in action.”

As I and my colleagues have spoken with, and listened to, our students and colleagues, it is clear to us that the anger and frustration over the persistence of prejudice, discrimination, and violence on the basis of skin color, race and ethnicity in our society is widely shared here at Gonzaga. Right alongside the work of planning for Fall re-opening have been important conversations about how we at Gonzaga can harness this moment as a catalyst for further, longer-term change: change that eliminates barriers, raises awareness, and meaningfully contributes to a better and more equitable future.

Over the past several years, Gonzaga University has intentionally made diversity, equity and inclusion a priority area of focus for our institutional work. This priority has been animated by serious and significant dialogue with our students, faculty and staff, which in turn has resulted in the creation of the Diversity, Inclusion, Community & Equity division in Student Affairs; an expanded Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Office of the Provost, the development of academic programs such as Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, and the creation of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in the School of Law.

But it is clear to us that we must continue to do more if we are to eliminate racism and prejudice, and work to build a true community of support for people of every color, race, and/or ethnicity.  We must and will continue to build on the work we have undertaken, by enlarging the circle of colleagues willing to create both safe space and brave space for our community to engage in and practice more effective intercultural communication. Building on previous commitments we have made; we are committed to leading our community in:

  1. Active, engaged listening with our students and colleagues – especially our community members of color – to truly understand our community members’ experiences and identify opportunities for support and intervention within the Gonzaga University and Spokane community context.  Out of these discussions we will develop additional initiatives, informed by a contemporary understanding of the issues we together face.
  2. Engaging – as committed administrators, staff, and faculty – in educational activities which bring us face-to-face with the experience of marginalized peoples, and personal and professional development regarding prejudice and discrimination, as well as the importance and value of diversity in our community.  We commit to the full implementation of a diversity workforce development program for the faculty and staff employees during the upcoming academic year.
  3. A continued commitment to recruit, hire and retain a more culturally diverse workforce, to raise our diversity demographic from 13.4% to at least 20% by the year 2025.
  4. Working to support the faculty in an Implicit Bias Review of curriculum and pedagogy. In collaboration with the Center for Teaching & Advising (CTA), the University Core Curriculum Director and the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (ODEI), we will develop guidelines and protocols to critically evaluate what we teach and how we teach to support best practices in culturally inclusive instruction.
  5. Supporting synergistic collaborations between the ODEI, the Institute for Hate Studies, the Center for Civil & Human Rights, the Center for Public Humanities, the Visiting Writers Series and other departments to continue designing and delivering diversity-related programming and sponsoring/hosting a series of lectures.  Such collaboration brought Dr. Patrisse Cullors, a founder of Black Lives Matter, to Gonzaga this past February. This past year Gonzaga also hosted prominent anti-racist activist and scholar Dr. Tim Wise, Latino/Chicano scholar Dr. Neil Foley, and Native American author Tommy Orange, and diversity expert Dr. Mary James, among others. In the past two years we have hosted Critical Race scholar Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, and scholar, author and political activist Dr. Angela Davis. The appearance of such speakers provide our students and community with tremendous opportunities for engagement with essential social and cultural issues.

The current moment is a significant opportunity to affirm the commitments of a University “dedicated to the mission of educating students for lives of leadership and service for the common good.”  I, together with the leadership of Gonzaga University, invite our colleagues, students, partners and friends into the work of creating a campus environment where the truth of our national, regional and institutional history regarding racism is actively engaged and addressed.   It is only when the realities of this history, and the impact it has had on the lives of our people, that authentic reconciliation and healing can occur.  This history is taught at Gonzaga, these topics are addressed in our courses, and with continued curricular and scholarly attention to them our students, and we, will be better prepared to engage the complex, multi-racial world in which we all live.

With the shared commitment of the President’s Cabinet,

Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.