June 12, 2020

A message from President Kennedy to the CU community, June 12

Dear CU students, faculty and staff,

It’s difficult to find the right words.

The brutal death of George Floyd caught on video rendered me, like many of you, speechless and horrified. Other recent killings of African Americans compound feelings of shock and sadness that accumulate with each injustice. The racism underlying these killings is a cancer that threatens the health and vitality of our great nation and has for centuries.

It is indeed difficult to find the right words when confronted with racism, be it violent and overt or quiet and insidious. As allies to communities of color, we have a responsibility to speak out against and confront racism.

The events of the past weeks – and of past years, decades and centuries – can inform and guide us in our search for a way forward. As a higher education institution, we have a special obligation to confront racism. Teaching and research, and understanding ourselves, our communities and the physical world, and sharing those understandings is our reason for being.  

People in our community rightfully demand action. And we must act on several fronts. Part of that is to continually listen, learn and reflect, and to follow with concrete steps. Part is to continue to enhance the bias and diversity training that starts at the top of our organization and cascades throughout the university. Another part is to provide professional development and training to ensure that issues of diversity, equity and inclusion are consistently woven into the fabric of our university. Part is to ensure we foster an ongoing open forum where ideas and solutions are debated, discussed and advanced. We must also step up our efforts to recruit, retain and support students, faculty and staff of color. We are examining our relationship with Colorado Correctional Industries and will engage shared governance in the effort. I have asked each campus chancellor to personally review the policies and procedures of campus police departments. All the above are action steps we will take.

We all have a stake in this important work and must all be involved. It must be a sustained effort. I am engaging in critical conversations with our community to learn how we can refine actions we are now taking and determine others we must take. I invite you to be part of those conversations, which you will hear more about soon.

We have much work to do. As a university community, we have made some progress in furthering diversity, equity and inclusion, which are among our core values and guiding principles. But we must also recognize that this work is never done. In particular, we need to live up to our mission of providing opportunity for all through access to education.

A fundamental step toward equality is ensuring that all people – regardless of race, ethnic identity, beliefs or backgrounds – can pursue a higher education. Countless studies show that opportunity and improved social and economic outcomes are directly tied to obtaining a college degree. The COVID-19 pandemic has again laid bare the sharp economic and racial divide between those who have college degrees and those who do not.

As a society and a university, we must do more to invest in educational equity. And we must do it now.

I commend the efforts on all four campuses and at the system level to confront racism head-on and to promote equality. To have difficult conversations. To listen. To educate ourselves. To effect much-needed change. I also commend those who have raised their voices to highlight injustice and the need for change.

In her thoughtful and important essay published last week, CU’s Chief Diversity Officer Theodosia Cook reflected on race and our current climate. At a time when many of us struggle to find the right words, Theodosia offers these: “Ultimately, we must challenge ourselves to learn more and place value on the lived experience of communities of color and not rely solely on our limited experiences and opinions.”

I challenge myself, and the entire CU community, to recommit to the work before us. And I ask us all to be what we encourage our students, faculty and staff to be – lifelong learners. But in addition to being lifelong learners about history or engineering or the arts, we must be lifelong learners about issues of justice, equality and inclusion. I am confident that by working together, we can make a difference, just as our university has for nearly a century and a half.

All the best,

Mark R. Kennedy