Black Lives Matter.
June 17, 2020
Black Lives Matter: An open letter to the community
To the MSU Community,
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
- Rev. Martin Luther King
The WorkLife Office stands with the peaceful protesters seeking safety, fairness and equal justice for Black lives in our communities. We stand with the community, working together and individually to learn, to share, to grow and support growth in navigating the work and personal lives of the people we serve. In the WorkLife Office, Black Lives Matter. We are not silent.
Personally, I have been horrified - though sadly not surprised - by the police brutality against Black lives. Traditions of violence and oppression are made visible, evident, in the very public killings of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Abery among so many others. These losses are not limited to the individuals and their families and friends. These losses also signify the loss of humanity, the depth of racism that has informed our social structures. And now, we have COVID-19 killing Black people in disproportionately high numbers where health care, resources and supports are inequitably distributed. What more do we need to see the systemic inequities? I have been reading, listening, watching, discussing and exploring in an effort to understand where to begin; what I, and my office, can do now and going forward.
While seeking to understand and support progress, I saw a photograph by Sara Smith-Wills; a clear, succinct reply to questions often arising about Black Lives Matter, such as “Don’t all lives matter?”, and “Why do Black lives need all the attention?” I have tried explaining this to inquiring white friends and family since the inception of the movement, but the sign held up by a little Black girl in the photograph did it best:
“We said --- Black Lives Matter.
We NEVER said --- Only Black Lives Matter.
We KNOW --- All lives matter.
We just need your help
Because Black lives are in danger.”
This illustration really resonated with me, because it focused the attention that is needed where it belongs - on supporting the safety and wellbeing of our Black community because that is where the ask is, that is where the need is, and that is where the focus has never been.
Our country is in a crisis of conscience, and of consciousness. We have seen undeniably stark and graphic illumination of the racist attitudes and assumptions on which our society is constructed, which systemically isolate and oppress Black members of our community. The brutal deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray and so many others have made visible the attitudes that foster violence as a first response; so anathema to assumptions of innocence and inquiry fundamental to democracy and fair treatment under the law. White people have benefitted from safety and assumptions about whiteness, and thereby have participated in systems so taken for granted that we have not seen their impact, or we have looked away, denying our power to change them. Now, we are finally examining those systems, how attitudes and assumptions inform what we have built, so that we can rebuild them differently - inclusive and respectful of our Black communities.
This rebuilding is, perhaps for the first time, marshalling support from all demographics for elevating consciousness and in turn conscious action toward change. The WorkLife Office will be part of this examination of conscience and consciousness. We are engaging with speakers and resources to help us, and in turn help the community, to understand more deeply, act more intentionally, and interrupt bias and assumptions more effectively at every turn. While we have sought input to make our services inclusive and responsive to our diverse community, we are again reaching out in particular to our Black community. We want to learn more about how work-life policies and practices may exert differential impacts; to ensure our services are pro-actively inclusive, intentionally evolving and improving. We want our advocacy to be directed more effectively.
And above all, we want you, our community, to know that in the WorkLife Office, Black Lives Matter and always will. We welcome your questions, comments, suggestions and input toward learning and serving our Black community in particular, on how we can enhance knowledge and facilitate action. We invite you to join with us in exploring, learning and taking responsibility for a safe and equitable future. Our Coffee Conversations are open to all, and those discussing Black Lives Matter can be found here: https://worklife.msu.edu/webinars
Barbara Roberts, Ph.D.
Executive Director and Senior Advisor to the Provost
WorkLife Office Team Actionable Commitments
The WorkLife Office Team has committed to using an hour per week of our allocated work time dedicated to educating ourselves on diversity in all aspects.
- The WorkLife Office as a team has committed support to educating ourselves together with others on the experience of oppressed peoples (Black Lives Matter, Native American communities, Indigenous peoples, LGBTQA+, Latinx communities, people with disabilities, religious groups and others) and to continuing our own work on what it means to be anti-racist.
- We will do this by:
- Dedicating an hour per week of our allocated work time to educating ourselves on diversity in all aspects
- Setting aside time during staff meetings to reflect and share what we have learned from our educational activity
- Sharing our learning, insights and resources used through blog posts on our website
- Reserving time regularly for educational sessions during our 10am Coffee Conversations, open to the community
- Team training on biases, LGBTQ+ awareness, anti-racism, becoming allies, and similarly relevant knowledge
- We align with Michigan State's Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives
We invite the community to join us in these efforts, taking time to explore, share, reflect and learn toward the creation of a positive, welcoming and fully inclusive community.
Education and development resources for faculty and staff:
- Understanding Implicit Bias Certification program, a series of three courses allows participants to experience thoroughly examined implicit bias and begin the work of interrupting their own biases as well as those embedded within systems at MSU.
- Standalone workshops, customized trainings, dialogue opportunities, and campus diversity and inclusion education partners available through MSU’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives.
- MSU ElevateU: Online DEI Learning Module Offerings
Education and development resources for students:
- The LBGT Resource Center offers a number of educational and development opportunities for our Spartans, including Understanding Pronouns, Understanding Trans and Nonbinary Identities, Quest I: Introduction to LGBTQA+ Identities, and Quest II: Deepening LGBTQA+ Understanding.
- Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience and Intercultural Aide Program and DEI Intercultural Aide Peer Educators host DEI roundtable discussions across all five neighborhoods on various DEI topics each week.
- The Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions supports individual students in their navigation of cross-cultural encounters and in their own understanding, exploration, and development of cultural identity.
DEI engagement opportunities for all:
- The Womxn of Color Initiatives (WOCI) is an effort to organize events for womxn of color and their allies on MSU’s campus and in the greater Lansing community. The initiative’s speaker series brings nationally recognized academic, creative and/or political womxn of color speakers to the MSU campus each semester.
- The Annual Womxn of Color Community Conference for faculty and staff.
- Annual Gender, Women’s Suffrage, and Political Power (GWSPP) Conference occurs each November.
- The Annual Queer Conversations Symposium is a half-day symposium inviting conversations and collaboration on queer issues and research that highlights the queer work students ae doing across disciplines and departments.
- Asian Pacific America Studies Initiatives hosts various speakers/workshops that highlight various Asian Pacific Islander Desi American scholar-activists and activists.
- Muslim Studies Program supports teaching and research about Muslims around the globe from an interdisciplinary perspective.
- The Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel hosts the annual Rabin/Brill Lecture each February.
More on building inclusive communities: https://inclusion.msu.edu/about/building-inclusive-communities.html
Friday, June 19, 2020: Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3aQjTy328o&feature=youtu.be
Higher Education Recruitment Consortium on Diversity and Inclusion:
The Michigan State University WorkLife Office hosts the Michigan Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC). See HERC’s statement on diversity and inclusion below:
HERC stands in solidarity with people of color in their ongoing struggle against institutional racism, hateful rhetoric, and violence perpetrated by individuals in power. We remain steadfastly committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education. We strive to actualize this vision by assisting individuals of all backgrounds identify meaningful professional opportunities and by facilitating equitable hiring practices and inclusive cultures at our member institutions. HERC believes that higher education has the responsibility and the opportunity to embody the ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Read more here: https://www.hercjobs.org/statement-on-diversity-and-inclusion/
Informational webinars from HERC can be found at the following links:
- Professionals of Color: https://www.hercjobs.org/category/professionals-of-color/
- LGBTQ+ Professionals: https://www.hercjobs.org/category/lgbtq-professionals/
- Women: https://www.hercjobs.org/category/women/
Resources are not intended to state a position or endorse positions taken by any of the authors, but are provided as an opportunity for readers to gain perspective on the current events.
- Race Matters: A Dialogue about Systemic Racism and Its Impact on Our Community (by Sarah Anthony, State Representative)
- 1619 Podcast by NY Times - An audio series on how slavery has transformed America, connecting past and present through the oldest form of storytelling.
Media Publications from Jennifer Cobbina, Criminal Justice Professor at Michigan State University:
- 2020 Highlighted in Wisconsin Public Radio, “As Cries to Defund Police Rise, Milwaukee Police Chief Calls for Unity,” June 10: https://www.wpr.org/cries-defund-police-rise-milwaukee-police-chief-calls-unity
- 2020 Commentary, NYU Press Blog, “Taking Power from Police and Putting it into Communities,” July 10: https://www.fromthesquare.org/taking-power-from-police-and-putting-it-into-communities/#.XvEGsWhKiUl
- 2020 Commentary, MSU Today’s 360 Perspective, “Jennifer Cobbina: Taking Power from Police and Putting it into Communities,” June 9: https://msutoday.msu.edu/360/2020/jennifer-cobbina-taking-power-from-police-and-putting-it-into-communities/
- 2020 Highlighted in USA Today, “Not just George Floyd: Police departments have 400-year history of racism,” June 7: https://amp.usatoday.com/amp/3128167001
- 2020 Highlighted in MLive, “Thousands of Michiganders have marched through tears and tear gas to protest police brutality. Are we finally ready for real change?,” June 5: https://www.mlive.com/public-interest/2020/06/thousands-of-michiganders-have-marched-through-tears-and-tear-gas-to-protest-police-brutality-are-we-finally-ready-for-real-change.html
- 2020 Interviewed on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning, “What Is It Like to be Black and Living in the U.S.” June 4: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-100-ottawa-morning/clip/15780214-what-is-it-like-to-be-black-and-living-in-the-u.s.
- 2020 Highlighted in Wired, “How US police used military tactics to turn peaceful protests violent,” June 4: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/police-brutality-minneapolis-floyd-blm-trump
- 2020 Highlighted in CBC News, “The National for June 01, 2020”, June 1: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1745261123727 *starts around the 12:50-minute mark*
- 2020 Featured in El Mercurio, “Muerte de afroamericano a manos de la policía aviva tensiones raciales en EE.UU,” May 29: https://digital.elmercurio.com/2020/05/29/A/MK3Q3P3J#zoom=page-width
- 2020 Highlighted in The New York Times, “The Persistence of Police Killings,” May 27: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/27/briefing/coronavirus-george-floyd-spacex-your-wednesday-briefing.html
- 2020 Interviewed on Thinking Out Loud Radio Show, “Stand Up, Speak Up!: A Conversation About the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery & Sean Reed,” May 11: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/thinkingoutloudradio/2020/05/13/pt-1-stand-up-speak-up--thinking-out-loud-radio-show-listener-event?fbclid=IwAR00UMdTFTf4Mzfgq4gP7DnU3HiQ6tX88WrlkNXIOHLsH3t3OMQMi0xfiJY
- 2020 Interviewed by MSU College of Social Science New, “What it’s Like to be Incarcerated in the Midst of a Public Health Crisis,” March 25: https://socialscience.msu.edu/news-events/news/2020-03-25.html#MSUSocialScience
- 2020 Interviewed on 8 O’clock Buzz, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: How Black Lives Matter Changed America,” February 24: https://www.wortfm.org/hands-up-dont-shoot-how-black-lives-matter-changed-america/
- 2020 Op-Ed, The Conversation, “Is hiring more black officers the key to reducing police violence?” February 4: https://theconversation.com/is-hiring-more-black-officers-the-key-to-reducing-police-violence-126075 *Also, ran in The Telegraph, Black Voice News, & MSU Today
- 2020 Interviewed on Thinking Out Loud Radio Show, “Hands Up Don't Shoot - Feat. Author Professor Dr. Jennifer Cobbina,” December 10: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/thinkingoutloudradio/2019/12/11/hands-up-dont-shoot--feat-author-professor-dr-jennifer-cobbina