September 11, 2020
Dear Gonzaga University Community Members:
Yesterday we were made aware of an incident on campus which affords us an opportunity to speak directly to Gonzaga's values and the kind of community we seek to be.
In the weeks following the horrific killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and – earlier this spring, Breonna Taylor, among numerous other Black Americans injured or killed this past year – thousands of people have taken to the streets in communities across the nation, enraged and compelled to speak loudly against discrimination and injustice, particularly as it is reflected in long-standing tensions at the intersection of racism, law enforcement and the justice system, and civil liberties. Following our communications earlier this summer, please know that right alongside the pandemic planning for the Fall 2020 semester, we have also been working to harness this contentious historical moment as a catalyst to address racial justice across the curriculum and in co-curricular programming in the Jesuit tradition.
To begin our semester, the Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC), in collaboration with Dr. Juliane Mora's Communication Studies courses 230: Understanding Identity; and 320: Resistance, Struggle, and Power, is providing a week-long exhibit entitled "Black Lives Matter#SayTheirNames," in memoriam of the unarmed black individuals who have been killed by police in the last decade. This exhibit was created by our own students, who invested significant time and effort planning, creating and installing it for our community. The exhibit, which runs from September 9 to 16, 2020, includes 120 signs on Herak Lawn, each with the name of an individual and QR code that leads to www.gonzaga.edu/saytheirname where there is an introduction to the exhibit and information about each death. This is intended to be reflective sacred space.
Yesterday we learned that this space was violated by the intentional removal of the sign bearing George Floyd's name. The space is designed to animate the social justice educational experience of our students through courageous conversations, critical dialogue, and rigorous academic debates which address dismantling structural racism. Jesuit axioms such as being a contemplative in action, protecting the dignity of all people, or faith in service to the promotion of justice are not just hollow sentiments; they are core values and strong beliefs that define the distinctiveness of a Gonzaga University Jesuit Education. We do not condone destroying, diminishing or discounting opposing or conflictive points of view. To the contrary, we encourage our university community members and our collaborative partners in the Spokane community with diverse perspectives to join conversations that form, inform and transform one's sense of self in relation to "the other." As Gandhi once pointed out, "informed dissent" nourished by a deep respect for others different from ourselves is essential in establishing and sustaining an authentic multicultural society. The "Black Lives Matters #SayTheirNames" exhibit is a visual invitation to our GU community to reflect upon, think about, and engage in a series of dialogues about the complex issues that relate to what it means to be human in an increasingly diverse national and international context.
At some point last night, the automatic sprinklers further damaged the display. Staff in UMEC and Plant Services have restored the exhibit by reprinting all of the damaged images and replacing the sign of George Floyd. Please know that Plant Services, Campus Security and Public Safety, and other campus community partners are taking additional action to assure the security, safety and integrity of the exhibit space. At the site of the exhibit on Herak Lawn, lighting has been added, as well as additional security surveillance. Plant Services has made adjustments to the sprinkler schedule in an endeavor to prevent further water damage to the exhibit. We are also working to identify those responsible for intentionally vandalizing the exhibit, a deeply disrespectful act. This incident has been reported to the Gonzaga University Bias Incident Assessment Support (BIAS) team for an immediate response. Holding each other accountable for actions that are incongruous with Gonzaga's mission and values is essential to establishing and sustaining a safe, welcoming, and supportive living, working and learning campus environment for all members of our GU community. This is our home. We are a community of Zags, committed to each other for a Greater Good.
This current moment is a significant opportunity to affirm the commitments of our University's dedication "to the mission of educating students for lives of leadership and service for the common good." We senior leaders of Gonzaga University, invite our colleagues, students, partners and friends anew into the work of creating a campus environment where the truth of our national, regional and institutional history regarding racism is actively engaged and respectfully confronted.
We cannot undo the negative impact that members of our community – especially those responsible for creating this exhibit -- have experienced in this circumstance; but we can underscore our commitment to ceaselessly work together to be better and do better. We as a university community prioritize inclusion, human dignity, and diversity in all of its complex forms, and are committed to taking actions that promote justice at Gonzaga University. If you would like to know more about our efforts, please visit the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at: https://www.gonzaga.edu/about/diversity-equity-inclusion. If you need resources and support, please reach out to the staff in UMEC (x5836), CCP (x2227), Health & Counseling Services (x4052), or visit our Bias Team webpage (https://www.gonzaga.edu/reportbias). We also encourage you to participate in these future events, programs, or discussions related to racial justice:
- Tues, Sept 15 – Black Lives Matter & The Catholic Church with Olga Segura
- Tues, Sept 29 – John Lewis: Get in the Way
- Mon, Oct 5 – Talk About It Monday: It's Not About Good Cops vs Bad Cops
- Tues, Oct 23 – Calling in the Calling Out Culture with Loretta Ross
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.
Deena J. González, Ph.D.
Provost and Senior Vice President
Kent Porterfield, Ed.D.
Vice Provost, Student Affairs
Raymond F. Reyes, Ph.D.
Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer