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Do not turn away from racial violence

Dear Campus Community,

Even though we can’t be together in person right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we ask that you come together with us in spirit to reflect and take action on behalf of the Furman community. Over the past few weeks a number of incidents of racial violence have shaken our country. We have watched in horror and with deep sadness as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were killed at the hands of police or neighborhood vigilantes.

These killings are the latest in a continual litany of macro-aggressions and racial profiling of African Americans. Police action as a weapon against African Americans is particularly egregious given the disproportionate numbers of African Americans who are arrested and convicted via our criminal justice system and the mounting numbers who have been killed as a form of state-sanctioned violence. This perpetuates a racialized privilege and threatens the physical, mental and emotional health of African American citizens.

As a university, we recently undertook a close examination of our institutional ties to slavery, segregation and injustice. In doing so, we uncovered a history of white supremacy among Furman’s early leaders that lasted well into the second half of the 20th century in South Carolina and across the country. We shared what we learned and have taken steps to more fully tell our story, including recognizing and honoring those who helped build and change Furman.

But the events of the past few weeks remind us that we – at Furman and across our country – need to do so much more. Continued violence, as well as health care disparities revealed by the pandemic, have again laid bare the stark, systemic and institutional realities of racial injustice in America that says through words and actions that black lives are expendable.

At Furman, it is important for our entire community to understand that these circumstances have affected many of our African American students, faculty and staff in countless ways, reflecting a burden carried by many African Americans who fear for their lives and wonder if justice and equality will ever be realized. With this in mind, we ask that each of us takes time to reflect on this moment to consider the collective trauma experienced by the African American community.

Our request is that the Furman community not turn away. Instead, we must confront this moment with a spirit of empathy and an ethic of caring, but also with a conviction and a call to collective action. As a community, do we understand what it’s like to be an African American student, faculty or staff member? Have we asked or otherwise sought to understand? And, if we collectively knew the answers, would they lead us to say or do things differently?

We must recommit ourselves to acknowledging racism and to working with African American students, faculty, staff and others in our community in ways that are affirming, supportive and understanding of the cultural trauma they have experienced. In confronting an uncomfortable truth, our hope is that we can have a stronger understanding of what it takes to build a beloved community, where equity and inclusion permeate all that we are and all that we do.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth Davis, President

Connie Carson, Vice President for Student Life

Jason Donnelly, Athletics Director

Tom Evelyn, Vice President for University Communications

Meredith Green, General Counsel

Mike Hendricks, Vice President for Enrollment Management

Michael Jennings, Chief Diversity Officer

Susan Maddux, Vice President for Finance and Administration

Heidi Hansen McCrory, Vice President for Development

Ken Peterson, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

Liz Seman, Chief of Staff and Liaison to the Board of Trustees

Dave Steinour, Chief Information Officer

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