Officials Plan Public Response to Black Lives Matter

Officials Plan Public Response to Black Lives Matter

Kailene Nye, Editor-in-Chief

University officials are in the process of planning the school’s public response to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

The movement, which was originally formed in 2013, again took to the global stage with protests in all 50 states and even internationally. The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Dr. Kathleen Owens, interim president, is taking the lead on the university’s public response, which she views as not only necessary but also as a responsibility.

“We are a university grounded in Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy, which include recognizing and dismantling institutional racism, the issues raised by Black Lives Matter demand our response,” she said. “We owe it to our black students, faculty and staff, to let them know that we see them, hear them and value them. It’s a question of solidarity.”

Sierra Crane, senior mass communications and design major, said the university’s response is crucial, especially for black students.

“They [the university] have people of color attending here, and they’ve never really been one to directly talk on race,” she said. “I think it would be important for them to publicly announce backing the Black Lives Matter movement. It would maybe give those people the thought that they do matter to this school.”

She also believes the response can be an important opportunity for the university to support words with actions.

“I think there are a lot of things that Mis says that are hypocritical in their actions. Sure, you can say it, but the way you act says something different,” Crane said. I think the Black Lives Matter movement is a perfect example because they said, ‘Yeah, this is an issue,’ but we haven’t seen any action,” Crane said.

Owens said the first step is to start a meaningful conversation. She reached out to several faculty and staff members for help with determining ways to engage the community in “conversations that matter.”

“Our response must begin with a significant commitment to the kind of deep listening that leads to effective action. That is why I have reached out to faculty and staff members interested in working with me to stimulate conversions in as many contexts as possible that will lead to a community that is more comfortable talking about difficult topics, more fluent in the language of race and privilege,” Owens said.

She invites students to join the conversation as well, particularly those from the black community.

“How much does the white president and administrators of a largely white university really know about the needs of the black members of our community? It would be arrogant to assume we know enough,” she said. “I do hope to have the opportunity to meet with members of the black community on campus and to listen and learn about their experiences as well as to hear their suggestions for action.”

Owens believes black students’ input is crucial, not only in terms of making their voices heard but also in educating other members of the white campus community.

“As a predominantly white institution, we have an obligation to understand the history behind the Black Lives Matter movement, including the countless ways some of our cherished institutions have sent the very clear message that black lives do not, in fact, matter,” Owens said. “We need to understand our own complicity. Systemic racism is part of the fabric of our country, so when I use the word ‘complicity,’ I’m not talking about finger-pointing, accusing individuals of being racist.  I’m talking about Misericordia, as a place of higher learning, examining these topics with the intellectual curiosity and critical thinking that are key elements of our mission,” she said.

Her hope is that as a result of having these conversations in a higher education setting, students will spread the message to the next generation.

“It should begin in the home,” Owens said. “This definitely should begin way before the college level, and that’s what I’m encouraged with in going on with college and university and younger people, that as they have families, that they will be discussing this at home. In our churches, in the Catholic church, this certainly is an issue of critical importance, just important to be hearing about the respect and the dignity of every single person.”

Owens said the community must “look at the university itself, to see where we need to grow and change and learn to do better.”

Crane suggests including an educational component for the entire campus community.

“Maybe if there was a seminar series or something to educate people on black history and really what the meaning of Black Lives Matter is,” she said. “You can have people that say all lives matter, which they do, it’s the way they’re not getting treated equally. I think maybe a seminar. I don’t know how many people would actually show up to that but definitely something to educate everyone on campus.”

Owens said her personal goal is to help build the foundation during her time as university president.

“It’s my successor who will take up the mantle of shepherding the long-term strategic work ahead. So, my personal goal is to do everything I can to prepare the ground for that work. I want to catalyze the conversation, to stimulate discussion in as many contexts as possible, so that, when the new president arrives, she or he finds a community that has grown more comfortable talking about difficult topics, more fluent in the language of race and privilege,” Owens said.

Owens also hopes to see white members of the community expand their knowledge beyond their personal lived experience with race.

“Myself, as a parent of two sons, I never had to have a talk with my sons about how to behave, keep your hands visible, you know the details of if you would run into a police officer. It was the opposite. The police officer was there to assist you, to help you, but that’s not the case,” she said. “We’re certainly seeing that now with all that has come to light in the case of Black Lives Matter. You’re not conscious of the implicit biases that you have because you have grown up white.”

Crane hopes that whatever the university decides to do, people must learn that racism exists.

“Just because there’s no segregation or anything like that doesn’t mean that racism is gone. It’s still here. I have seen a lot of it within my own family,” Crane said. “I have lost respect for a quite a few family members lately. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. fought for rights and exceeded in getting segregation abolished, but that wasn’t that long ago. I just hope people learn that racism is still here, and it’s still a fight we have to win,” she said.

Owens is hopeful for even more change because “something has shifted in America.”

“Progress, though excruciatingly slow, has been made, and young people have been at the forefront of change. I believe that American higher education has contributed to that awakening and will continue to be an essential factor in moving us from where we are to where we need to be,” she said.

She hopes the efforts will bring the community even closer.

“Before the start of classes, on July 6th, I sent a letter to all members of the university community, including students, about BLM and said: ‘I have the audacity to hope that, together, we can move closer to Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.’ My invitation to community members to join me in making that hope a reality still stands,” Owens said.