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Reflections on George Floyd and Racial Injustice

June 5, 2020
Dear Office for Research colleagues,

By now, you have heard from a number of our institutional leaders about this most challenging time in our nation’s history, but as we close out the week I write to speak directly to the Office for Research. The horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked nationwide protests and made vivid — once again — the pain and inequity rooted in America’s longstanding racial divide. So many of us have also been grieving the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade, and these injustices are further compounded by COVID-19’s disruption to our lives and work. I know many members of the Northwestern community are also feeling personally the impact of financial stresses the pandemic has placed on our University. In one way or another, we all are experiencing extraordinary distress and uncertainty.

While everybody must acknowledge the brutality captured on video and circulated on social media, I recognize that our different backgrounds and experiences lead us to process this injustice in different, and very personal ways. I am outraged by what I saw, and like many of you, I recognize that the anguish felt by many Black members of our community is deepened by a lifetime of experiences that others among us cannot directly relate to.

At Northwestern, we strive to be a safe and inclusive community where all of our members can pursue their research, teaching, and learning, or other responsibilities and tasks that support these efforts. And while our principles and practices may place us further ahead of many institutions in our society, we recognize we still have much work to do. We know that our shared mission and the remarkable opportunity we have to create knowledge that improves the world will only be fully realized when our workplace and society allow everyone to freely pursue their work and their aspirations unburdened by bigotry. This goal demands our attention as much as, and in parallel with, our important research focus.

I want to share an experience from last summer that has deepened my understanding of race disparities in our country. I read Bryan Stevenson’s outstanding book Just Mercy, which describes his mission to provide legal aid to Black men who were placed on death row by a justice system that is flawed in policing, prosecution, and incarceration. Just Mercy opened my eyes to the pain and helplessness experienced by those who encounter a very different justice than I do,¬† a terrifying reality we all witnessed with Mr. Floyd’s killing. This book is now the 2020-21 selection for Northwestern’s One Book program, and if you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend you read it.

Each of us contributes to the rich diversity that is a genuine strength of Northwestern. We each take different paths to get here and we understand that we must better comprehend and appreciate these journeys in order to build a community even more capable of nurturing individual talent and producing research with great societal impact. My staff and I have much more listening to do as we begin outlining the steps we will take to help Northwestern Research live up to our highest ideals of what we, together, can be and achieve. To facilitate this effort, we have established a dedicated email address where you can share your experiences, concerns, and suggestions with me: ORListens@northwestern.edu. Your comments will be anonymized before they are shared outside my office. I also commit to action and to strengthening our efforts towards what we know to be the real work of addressing deeply entrenched systems of inequality: ensuring that our policies, practices, and resources are directed in ways that promote opportunity and excellence in all we do.

I am grateful to each of you for bringing your talents and your unique experiences to contribute to our important work and I invite you to share your ideas, stories, and perspectives as we renew our commitment to create a workplace, and a world, where every person is valued, has an equal opportunity to write their story, and is neither punished nor privileged based on the color of their skin.

 

Milan Mrksich
Vice President for Research