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Juneteenth is an opportunity to reflect

The Joseph Vaughn statue in front of the Duke Library
The Joseph Vaughn Plaza

President Elizabeth Davis sent the message below to the campus community on Friday, June 18, 2021.

Dear Campus Community,

The first time I heard about Juneteenth I was a first-year student in college at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Times were different, and the occasion, when African-American slaves in Texas were notified of their freedom, wasn’t talked about very much where I had grown up, in New Orleans. Now, many years later, Juneteenth has taken hold across the country as an important and deeply meaningful date, as acknowledged by yesterday’s signing of a bill making it a federal holiday.

For me, Juneteenth is a time to acknowledge the racism that Black people and people of color have experienced in the past and continue to endure in the present. In the past year I’ve taken more time to reflect, listen and learn, and try to think through other people’s perspectives, not just my own. Talking with students and alumni and hearing their personal stories has been enlightening.

I encourage everyone to do the same. Take a moment to learn from someone who’s different from you and make the cause personal.

At Furman, we’re not perfect but we’ve taken significant steps toward racial diversity, equity and inclusion. We created a strategic diversity plan to make our campus more inclusive and more equitable. Most visibly, we unveiled the statue of Joseph Vaughn, our first Black undergraduate student, and dedicated the plaza in front of Duke Library in his honor. We did this because it’s important that people of color see representation of themselves on campus. There’s a strong message that people who have blazed trails give others the hope that they can do the same.

Later this year we plan to formally acknowledge two other milestones, the celebrations of which were postponed last year. We will hold an event to dedicate the Lakeside Housing Complex now named for Clark Murphy, a much-loved member of the Furman community who was a long-time custodian, groundskeeper and handyman at the Greenville Woman’s College, which later merged with Furman. This is the first physical structure on Furman’s campus named for an African American. We will also celebrate the re-naming of “James C. Furman Hall” to “Furman Hall” to honor members of the Furman family and community who worked to support and grow the university over time.

Thank you again to all involved in reflecting on our past, making thoughtful recommendations on moving forward, and helping us to carry out these changes. I look forward to continuing the conversations we’re having with our faculty, staff, students and alumni to ensure we’re taking action to create a community in which all are welcomed, cared for, and celebrated.

I hope everyone has a safe and thoughtful Juneteenth.

Warmly,

Elizabeth Davis
President

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