Western Carolina University Chancellor Kelli R. Brown and Bryant Kinney, chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, set aside the business of the university to address the business of the nation in the wake of days of civil unrest across the U.S. following the death of George Floyd and other high-profile racial incidents.
In remarks delivered as part of the board’s quarterly meeting Friday, June 5, Brown and Kinney took time to express their sadness and outrage at the latest instance of violence against a black person. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died May 25 when a white police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes while the man was handcuffed and face down on a Minneapolis street.
“As a white woman growing up in the Midwest, I do not pretend to fully comprehend what it means to grow up in America as a black male, black female or person of color. But I do think that we all share a common sense of humanity and what is right.” Brown said. “I do think we all understand that what we are seeing play out in cities and communities across the nation is the cumulative effect of frustration with racism and injustice. No one deserves to have their lives taken in the way that George Floyd’s life was taken, or Breonna Taylor’s or Ahmaud Arbery’s.”
It is the responsibility of the university to stand up against racism and injustice, which is in keeping with WCU’s core values of collaboration with and respect for all members of the community, the free and open exchange of ideas, and cultural diversity and equal opportunity, she said.
“I believe that institutions of higher education have an obligation – a sacred duty – to those who attend our places of learning and to our communities to make sure we foster an environment that allows for open and honest dialogue, that we encourage courageous conversations and that we serve as a place where people who are different can come together and understand one another’s differences – and be better for it,” Brown said.
In his comments, Kinney acknowledged that, as a white man, he has no personal understanding of being a black American.
“I don’t and can’t walk in the shoes of any man or woman who faces the challenges of hate and fear that have been expressed over the past week – or for that matter expressed for decades. What happened to George Floyd was simply criminal and justice must be served, and not just for George Floyd but for the many other tragic victims of racism and intolerance that sadly fill our airwaves and social media feeds,” he said.
“I know as a university, we have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, and that will not waver. Key to that commitment is listening to voices that come from those that feel they are not heard. We – I – must do a better job of listening,” he said.
Kinney said the vast majority of law enforcement personnel were “sickened to witness what happened in Minneapolis,” and he spoke about the future role of WCU’s criminology and criminal justice students. “To those students, I remind you that education is not only experienced in the classroom. Learn from what you are seeing and hearing during this time and use it for the betterment of your career to serve all members of society,” he said.