Affirming Black Lives

May 29, 2020

Dear Seattle University Community,

As president of Seattle University, I personally wish to join our voices in solidarity with those of many others across our nation in condemnation of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

Seattle University is deeply committed to creating a just and humane world. We must all stand together in working to end systemic injustices and speaking out against racism, oppression and violence against African Americans. I endorse the words of Natasha Martin, our Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, and pray for our communities and nation with a heavy heart.

We plan to hold a vigil next week and I invite you to join us virtually in mourning and remembrance. More details will be shared early next week.

In solidarity and prayer,

Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.

Dear Seattle University Community,

I write to you today with a heavy heart as someone deeply impacted by the recent killing of George Floyd, the ensuing desperation and frustration on display in Minneapolis, and the other related incidents of racism and bigotry that have occurred over the last few weeks, including the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, as well as the act of racial aggression borne upon Christian Cooper. We are living in unprecedented times of a pandemic and witnessing the enduring problem of systemic racism in our country. I acknowledge the crushing weight of this moment and its haunting familiarity.

This message will be brief because I am filled with emotion as so many of you have expressed. I struggle to know whether I can offer anything at all that will be helpful. Words matter – they can help clarify and heal; but I found myself at a loss for words as I watched the footage of the officer’s disregard for George Floyd’s life and his cry for help. There is so much more I wish to convey, but I am processing these events in real time as a leader, citizen, and a black woman deeply impacted by these tragic circumstances. At this time, I offer the following statement on behalf of leadership at Seattle University.

As the university’s Chief Diversity Officer:  

I write to affirm the value and dignity of black lives. 

I offer my support and solidarity to our black students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends for whom these incidents may have a particularly traumatic impact.

To each of you, I want you to know that we see you, we honor your humanity, and we acknowledge the pain that living while black holds for you in this moment and beyond. I share my own exasperation at being in this place once again.

I offer my support and solidarity to all in our community – those who reside at various intersections of identity as historically underrepresented, people of color, other marginalized identities, as well as those committed to making the world more just.  

I write to name without caveat that what happened to George Floyd was inhumane, immoral, and unjust.

I write to acknowledge the collective trauma and the lack of trust that these incidents trigger, and acknowledge our struggle to deal with such blatant indifference for fellow human beings. The safety and well-being of our campus community is a priority.

I write to ask you to situate the racial violence and the protests that you are witnessing in a broader context – these incidents are not ahistorical.  These words from a speech by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. resonate:

Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention (Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Other America” 1967)

Our willingness to acknowledge the racial terror upon which our country is built and the systemic structural forces that sustain and lock in advantage and disadvantage as a self-reinforcing system that has been operating for years is critical.

I also want to say to those from other backgrounds who may have no lived experiences from which to draw understanding about these devastating events, but who are struggling to make sense of them – that we all have a role to play in listening more to one another, learning about each other and committing to uprooting racism in our personal and professional lives. We cannot change that which we do not know and understand or for which we hold little respect and curiosity. Thus, it is imperative we all learn how to productively engage across difference. We can start by courageously confronting conditions as they are.

Yes, what you see on the videos surrounding all of these tragedies is real and reflects deeply entrenched interlocking systems that reproduce racism every day in our society. Yes, it is who we are as a nation. Yes, it does reflect who we are as a society.  But it does not have to reflect what we can become, which is where I find hope and strength for the journey toward justice.

As the university’s strategic diversity and equity leader, I unequivocally repudiate any acts of hate, racism, or discrimination, and I will not stop pushing us to accept our imperfection, and to be better for the good of our students and the communities they will impact. 

I will be in touch soon with more thoughts and information on how we together will continue to learn and grow, and focus on how we can be more accountable in our roles for educating the next generation of leaders.  What separates us is fear.  Please do not give into fear at this time. We need each other more than ever.  

I will end by asking you to be present to every breath you take today and the days to come -- remember Floyd, Arbery, Taylor, and the countless others whose lives have been snuffed out by racism and bigotry.  Reflect on your responsibility as a member of our community to co-create a university that is inclusively excellent for all. So that we can honestly and courageously confront the world as it is, in order to create one that is more loving, more just, and more humane. 

Stay safe and be well.

In solidarity, Natasha

Natasha T. Martin, J.D.
Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion