A Message from Dean Jason E. Lane
Over the past year, the School of Education faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders have collectively discussed the need for our community to be more purposeful and committed to creating an inclusive and supportive community for all and addressing issues of systemic racism embedded in our own culture, policies, and practices. Given recent events in our nation, the need for such work has become even more critical and apparent.
Today I write with a heavy heart, filled with anger and sadness. I have struggled to come up with the right words and know that no words can adequately address what our nation is now enduring. But, I believe it is important that you hear from me and so, I write to share my own personal reflections and considerations.
By now we have all seen the news about the horrific murder of George Floyd by a member of the police in Minneapolis kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes. Sadly, this is just one of many recent brutal deaths. In March, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was killed in her own home, when the police raided her apartment in Louisville. Ahmaud Arbery was killed by three white men while he was jogging in Georgia in February. And, since the original posting of this statement, Rayshard Brooks was shot in the back and killed by police in Atlanta, Georgia.
As a white male in a position of privilege, I cannot imagine being in a situation in this country where I need to be concerned about where I jog, where I shop, or where I live. White privilege is real. I, and many of us in our community, are beneficiaries. We need to call it out for what it is and seek to end it. This is not a moment for silence.
These acts are poignant reminders of the systemic racism that continues to exist in our communities across the country and here in New York. They have brought into sharp detail the acts of oppression and vulnerability experienced by people of color, including at the hands of those paid to protect them. I know I cannot in any way fully comprehend the pain, fear, and struggles being experienced today and every day. What I do know is it is important for me to be aware and engaged, to speak out against the injustices we see, and to be more sensitive to perspectives beyond my own.
Over the last several months as we have dealt with COVID-19, we have discussed the importance of leading with empathy and caring. I believe those two tenets are as important now as we address systemic racism. Many of us feel the pain of COVID-19, but the burden is disproportionately felt by people of color. And, we, as an academic community, have a choice as to whether we sit back and watch or step forward to act and become a beacon of hope and champions of justice.
Sadly, we know these events are part of much broader patterns of racism in our culture that invade even the safest spaces in our communities – including our schools and our mental health facilities. Through our research, our teaching, and our community engagements we can work to make the world better and more just. In fact, many of you do this important work every day.
We have an opportunity to change the system from within – by preparing professionals who can identify discrimination and inequities; who have the tools and resolve to create change and advocate for social justice; who can restructure curriculum, classrooms and schools to eradicate the systems that suppress equality.
Of course, this also means we need to turn a mirror on ourselves. We have started this process via our community conversations, the creation of the diversity task force, and a book group that brings faculty and staff together to tackle difficult, yet necessary, conversations about race and racism. These activities are open to all and we invite others to be part of an ongoing dialogue.
On June 8th, Dr. Alex Pieterse and Dr. Cheryl Dozier, SOE’s Director of Equity and Inclusion and Associate Dean, respectively, hosted our first listening session for our community to come together to share how the current situation is affecting us. The voices that were heard were powerful and underscored the need to both listen and act. A second session will be held soon.
So much more needs to be done. We know that many of the actions to which the media is now bearing witness are merely the tip of the iceberg. They are reflective of patterns of behavior, often subconscious, that lead those in the majority to treat people of color in differentiated ways. What we have seen acted out by the police and other members of the community are not disconnected from what we see in all social institutions including schools and colleges and cause direct and lasting harm – perhaps not as dire as some of the actions we’ve seen of late; but still harmful. Not acknowledging and challenging these patterns and their underlying assumption leads to disparate impacts in how students are assessed, disciplined, and engaged. Scholars, including some within our own community, have developed evidence-based and carefully designed initiatives that can create more supportive educational experiences that empower all students and lead to improved life-outcomes. In fact, it is not surprising that we are seeing anecdotal evidence suggesting that some students who have struggled to learn in schools are now excelling academically by moving their learning to a different environment.
By engaging in equity-focused research and consciously acknowledging how our structures may result in disparate treatment, we can work toward a better future that addresses the issues we are collectively confronting now. It is easy for us to say that our thoughts are with those who are directly affected by the moment. It is not always as easy to know what we can do to create change. We have been making progress and we will continue to do so, however we acknowledge there is much work to be done. As I process this moment, I also am reminded of the hopeful words of one of our Touhey Family Fellows – “This program has finally given me the space to feel safe here at the university and has given me a voice to share how I feel and what I experience.” This is the experience that we strive to create for all students, staff and faculty in the SOE. We will begin - one student at a time to make the world a safer and more supportive space.
Thanks to all of you for the work that you do each and every day to make a difference in the lives of the individuals, families, and communities that we serve. Your work is essential to taking steps toward the equitable, just, and inclusive society for which we strive.
Jason E. Lane, Ph.D.
Professor & Interim Dean
School of Education
University at Albany
(updated June 16, 2020)