Dean Massey, Dean DeRue, Dean McCauley, Dean Gallimore, Dean Finholt, Dean West, Dean Runge, Dean Gier, Dean Hurn, Dean Dalton, Dean Bowman, Dean Videka:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” — Desmond Tutu
As graduate students, it is disheartening to write this because it means that not much has changed. Some may say that at an educational institution such as the University of Michigan, it is fair to assume that students share their experiences when injustices occur, allowing — although usually having to forcibly create a space to do so — other students to learn our true narrative, but when will you? When will you all realize that students should not have to be the first to address racial disparities and injustices that occur both on campus, and in the world?
I’m disappointed that while we pride ourselves on being a top-ranked public university, the same students you so happily market to the world are suffering. We continue to devote our time, money and health (physical, mental and emotional) to an institution that continues to fail us. The institution that our families believed would aid us during this cycle of growth leaves us to empower and curate spaces for ourselves, with no legitimate support from administration. This institution has a history of privileging whiteness, while my community is dismissed until we begin to disturb the supposed peace this university has instilled. In a world where our existence is assumed to be resistance, that peace was not created for my community. It is nothing more than a lie to hide a system that conforms to and honors the majority. We’re our own strength in times of trouble, and we’re left to put out this fire ourselves in a country that tells us, in no uncertain terms, Black lives do not matter.
A dean is defined as “the head of a faculty, school or administrative division in a university or college.” With the responsibility to your students in your respective schools and areas in mind, it’s time to address racial injustices correctly. Retweeting University President Mark Schlissel’s statement is not enough. We’re tired. We’re tired of having this conversation every year. We’re tired of asking for statements and action. We’re facing a virus that is affecting our community with a disproportionate burden of illness and death. We have to constantly worry about racism and police brutality in a world where selective attention thrives, while also preparing to return to an institution where the two will intersect. We’re tired.
How can you call us the leaders and best when this institution reinforces problematic ideologies? Reinforcing this behavior allows students to graduate and carry it with them into the next step of their lives. You’re contributing to the endless cycle. We have been forced to take initiative for far too long. We are forced to relive traumatic experiences far too often. Again, retweeting Schlissel’s statement is not enough. The statements that have been released not only lack in their list of actions that will be taken, but they have also been released too late. If we must attend classes and meetings the day after a tragedy such as the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery — the list goes on — occurs, then it is time to take accountability and address your students within the same time frame. We are tired of meaningless statements and empty promises. This is a call to action.
Timberlee Whiteus is a graduate student in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Sidney Arrington is a graduate student in the University of Michigan School of Social Work and they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.