Dear West Virginia University Community,It was a month ago when I announced we had every expectation of returning to campus in the fall. Today I am pleased to share that much work has been done to ensure we can safely return to in-person instruction on our West Virginia University campuses. More information will be shared this afternoon.
As we return to campus, the safety of our faculty, staff, students and community is our highest priority. However, in recent days, I have been reflecting on the word “safe” and what it truly means to our faculty, staff and students. While we have been using the term in light of the pandemic, the word takes on deeper meaning for me following the horrific and tragic death of George Floyd, and countless others before him.
I am saddened, angered and frustrated. To the Black members of our community, I cannot fully appreciate how deeply affected and pained you must be by not only this most recent act – but by all acts that reflect a deep-seeded bigotry in our nation’s communities. However, I can appreciate and accept the responsibility to ensure our campus community reflects something different.
Let me be clear: West Virginia University will not tolerate any form of racism, discrimination or bias on our campuses. And we will always address areas of concern with open eyes and open hearts.
Let me also be clear that these words are meaningless if we do not accept personal responsibility to do better. We must work together to assure good partnerships with our University Police Department and local law enforcement, approach conversations with new insights and commit to keeping everyone in our community safe.
In times such as these, I lean on our core Mountaineer values: Service, Curiosity, Respect, Accountability and Appreciation. I also lean on my firm belief that higher education will help create the very necessary dialogues we must continue to have when the media light begins to fade.
As we look to return in the fall, we must not only focus on the health and well-being of our community, we must also focus on the need to be an inclusive, diverse and welcoming campus – one that appreciates and values each other for who we are as individuals and the singular experiences we bring.
The veritable essence of higher education is intended to help students grow beyond the boundaries from which they came. The free expression of ideas and the opportunity for civil discourse must be held. Because change begins with education.
When we educate ourselves on issues, we create an exchange of interpretation that allows us to challenge, evaluate and determine for ourselves what we believe. My desire to return students to the classroom is not so they can learn for the sake of a passing grade. It is so they can learn for the sake of mending the world around us. Higher education – and the young people within our midst – will lead our country to evolve to a better place for all.
I ask that each of you take some time to personally reflect on what the current events mean to you and to our larger community. Ask yourself what personal commitment you can make to create a more inclusive and welcoming University. Be willing to accept personal responsibility.
It is with this in mind that I look forward to seeing you in the fall,
though appropriately social distanced, of course. But perhaps I am even
more eager to see how you will meet the opportunities we have before us
by using your intrinsic potential to create the change we seek.