It’s hard to find the words to describe what the past two weeks have generated for all of us in our college, university, and country. The unjust death of George Floyd is the latest example of a historical pattern where we must do better. I’ve listened to many within our community expressing their anger, fear, and outrage. I’ve read emails from members of our college and articles from many colleagues and others. I’ve heard some expressing their discomfort with the topic, or even how to talk about it. Some have suggested that racial injustice and current social events aren’t directly in our wheelhouse. I disagree. Truthfully, we’ve struggled with how to respond.
Many of us are outraged and filled with sorrow by the recent killings of Black people, including Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade. These are only a few examples of the daily violence perpetuated against Black people. In CFAES we work alongside communities as we seek to make our vision – We Sustain Life – a reality and to create a more just world. Such a world is only possible when all are treated equitably and humanely.
Our college and our stakeholders, as part of our strategic planning process this past year, upheld diversity as a central value of our community. It means we value differences; we believe we are stronger and more creative because of our differences—but it also means, that we acknowledge racism exists, not just in a city somewhere else, but here in our college and across the entire state of Ohio. We commit to working to end it and to live up to our CFAES mission centered on learning and the discovery of knowledge to sustain life. I know we are unified in this mission, but we must also recognize there is much more to it than growing food or ensuring the safety and security of our food or water. Proactively, we are continually challenged to consider the community we create and build together.
As President Drake said this weekend, “we must reaffirm our commitment as Buckeyes to our university values of inclusion, diversity and tolerance.” As CFAES Buckeyes, we affirm our commitment. To that point, here’s what we’ve done and what will continue working towards:
- In the midst of the pandemic, I pushed for the exemption to allow us to hire an Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Dr. Patrice Dickerson’s leadership will be important in meeting the needs of all our faculty, staff and students during this pandemic and intensified issues involving equity, inclusion and access. This week, we’ve been working to onboard Dr. Dickerson part-time, prior to her July 1 start. She will be reaching out to our community–first reaching out to our faculty, staff and students of color to provide space and care during this time. As it is not enough to passively oppose racism, Dr. Dickerson and the DEI team will also begin to actively engage the entire CFAES community in understanding what it means to authentically combat racism.
- Through investing and reorganizing we moved our CFAES Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) unit to more solid footing. We will now have a team of dedicated professionals to streamline our DEI work related to faculty, staff, and students. Our work cannot hinge on our CFAES DEI unit alone or just with your dean. We can organize events, provide sound advice, and provide leadership but the real work sits with all of us.
- I’ll be convening our “council of councils” – leaders of Faculty Advisory Council, Staff Advisory Council, Graduate Student Advisory Council, and the CFAES (Undergraduate) Student Council to discuss how we might move forward as a community in the immediate crisis. We need you to participate and share what you think our community should do, and what actions we should take. I encourage you to engage with your respective representatives to have your voices heard. You can start by listening to some student voices. The latest version of our student magazine, AgriNaturalist is now online featuring two relevant articles: a general article about our state of diversity in CFAES and the second article about Cultivating Change, an LGBTQ+ and ally student organization specific to colleges like ours. https://u.osu.edu/agrinaturalist/2020-2/
- I’ll also be convening our college leadership to discuss actions that we can take to be better leaders around these issues. Throughout our college, leaders are sending messages to their units, convening conversations, or taking other actions. This will continue.
We are a community based on solving problems, a community that depends upon our science, and we are faced with issues of racial injustice which make it obvious that what many of us might have hoped was getting better or was generally, okay—never has been. I propose the above as a start—a place to find some common ground and take action as a college. We need to continue to listen carefully and not assume we know, to address the racism we encounter in our daily lives, and to deepen our levels of empathy for the lived experiences of all oppressed and marginalized populations, especially African Americans. Each of us chooses what we will do, how we will change, what we will be like because—here’s my most important point—this college is our community.
Dean Cathann Kress