A Day of Reflection and Solidarity

A Day of Reflection and Solidarity
Remarks by President Denise Trauth
June 19, 2020

It is my great honor to welcome you to A Day of Reflection and Solidarity. I am especially grateful to Dr. Sherri Benn, Assistant Vice President and Director for Student Diversity and Inclusion, who organized this powerful event, and to the presenters who will participate with their voices, stories, and knowledge.

I want to begin this morning by sharing words I wrote five decades ago as a college student. Just so you understand my sophomore analogy, in this piece, I compared racism to a disease.

“Americans are alarmed. And black Americans, suffering from a decade of civil rights struggles and a summer of smoke, have seen their pain laid bare by the Report of the Commission on Civil Disorders. White racism, stark and fatal, has been diagnosed. Now a national examination of conscience and some planned programs of treatment will be tried to assuage the pain and cure the ailment. But as sufferers of the crippling effects of apathy, prejudice, or indifference, we find it necessary to question the state of our national response to the racial crisis. We find excuses insipid, promises ineffectual, and remedies evasive. We discover, ultimately, that there is an anemia in the principles to which we are committed. And most frightening of all, we realize there are no tonics or easy answers. People are screaming for relief. Frustration and exhaustion have used up their patience and pressed them to revolt.”

I wrote this in 1967. What I found amazing about these words as I reviewed them recently, is that they could have been written yesterday. And they beg us to answer the question: What have we accomplished during the intervening five decades?

The report referenced in my college writing was the work of the Kerner Commission, appointed by our Texas State alumnus and 36th President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, to identify the cause of the violent riots in 1967 that killed 43 people in Detroit, 26 in Newark, and led to casualties in 23 other cities. 

The Kerner Commission reported that poverty and institutional racism were driving violence. Pent-up frustrations boiled over in many black neighborhoods during the mid-to late-1960s, setting off riots that raged out of control.  

The report pointed to a flawed justice system, policing practices, unscrupulous consumer credit practices, poor or inadequate housing, high unemployment, voter suppression, and other culturally embedded forms of racial discrimination that all converged to propel violent upheaval on the streets of black neighborhoods in American cities.

The Kerner Commission declared that white racism—not black anger—was at the root of America’s urban turmoil, and included these words in the final report: “White society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” The Commission warned that the country was so divided that the United States was poised to fracture into two radically unequal societies—one black, one white.

These prophetic words are as chilling now as when I first read them 50 years ago – even more so because we, white people, did not heed this warning, and black people and communities have paid a deadly price. 

Although I have never experienced it myself, I bear witness to the fractured, unequal, and unjust society that to this day oppresses people of color. I feel responsibility for it and am deeply angered by it. But that is not enough.

Once again – as we have far too many times in this nation - we find ourselves at the crossroads of words and action regarding equality and justice for black people. At Texas State, we will choose action.  

We have talented and passionate diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders across the university who have been instrumental in building a strong foundation of diversity, equity, and inclusion excellence at Texas State. With their guidance, we have taken a number of steps to support diversity and build inclusion throughout our university community.

We elevated the position of Chief Diversity Officer to the President’s Cabinet to provide insights and direction on policy and decisions. We introduced minors in African American Studies and Latina and Latino Studies. We implemented the Capacity Building Action Plan which outlined nearly 100 steps we’ve taken to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion. We launched the Bias Response Protocol to give all Bobcats a voice in documenting incidents of discrimination, bias, and prejudice. We established the Council for Inclusive Excellence, started a new Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program for faculty and staff, commissioned the permanent LGBTQIA Advisory and Resource Network, opened the Texas State Monarch Center for Immigrant Students, and have focused specifically on developing programs that promote the recruitment and promotion of faculty and staff of color.

Most recently, with the priority to advance and elevate diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts across Texas State, we completed a comprehensive review of the university’s DE&I organizational structure to guide how we move forward to strengthen the framework of support for our faculty, staff, and students, and amplify the powerful work being done by DE&I professionals on our campuses.

Next week, I will share more with the university community about exciting changes that we are making to create synergy to do even more and achieve profound institutional-level change. But there is more to do, and there is an urgency in this mission. And, in the spirit of solidarity, we will work together.

Our students, faculty, and staff of color will not carry the burden of calling for equality and justice alone. Racism was instigated and propagated by white culture and institutions. It is not the responsibility of people of color to fix it. We commit to being more than non-racist at Texas State. We will be anti-racist. We will have community conversations that invite uncomfortable and courageous dialogue. We will continue to create and revise policies and procedures that support our culture of inclusion. Although reflection is necessary for the healing process, it is not meant to be easy.

Examining our own prejudice, bias, and privilege is key to awakening, to raising consciousness, to doing things differently. I know that I have had blind spots. This university has blind spots. In the past, I approached inclusiveness as inviting people of color to take part in a white, dominate culture. But I have learned inclusion is much more intentional and nuanced. True inclusion and equity require us to build and nurture a culture of meaningful equality in which our students, faculty, and staff of color have the same unfettered access to success, justice, safety, and opportunity.

One of the most important actions I can take is to listen to you, our community. I appreciate the faculty of color who engaged in a listening session with me last week to share your feelings and concerns. I heard that our faculty, staff, and students of color are exhausted, stressed, and anxious. They are in pain. Many shared that they live dual lives – they work or go to school, and then they come back into their communities and live a life burdened by injustice and unfairness. Many live in fear. Many feel powerless. And, some do not feel welcome at Texas State. I hear their pain, and I am moved to action by it. 

I am more resolved than ever before to stand with and act on behalf of our faculty, staff, and students of color. I may be limited to what I can change at the national level, but I can and will make a difference at Texas State.

As we hold this Day of Reflection and Solidarity, I know the truths, experiences, and self-expression shared today will help guide our way forward. It is important that this Day of Reflection and Solidarity is being held on Juneteenth, the historic time in 1865 when slaves in Texas learned they were free with the public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

It is our calling as an institution of higher learning to provide the educational environment that recognizes and celebrates our common humanity, and prepares our students to not only lead in a global society, but to be the change makers.

To the students joining us, you will lead us into a future that seeks and shapes equality and justice for all. I look forward to what I will learn with you and from you. Thank you all for participating today, for your hope and for your willingness to make a difference.