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April 2021: Reflections on the verdict in the murder of George Floyd — More work to do

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Dear Engineering Community,

Today, in the light of a new day, we can take a sigh of relief and reflect upon yesterday's important verdict in the Derek Chauvin case and the road ahead.

I am grateful those 12 jurors held former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin accountable for the May 2020 death of George Floyd, finding him guilty of all three charges. But as Vice President Kamala Harris stated yesterday: “A measure of justice isn’t the same as equal justice…We still have work to do.”

True justice requires far more than one conviction. And the jury for this trial heard only this case and cannot bear the burden of righting an entire history of racially motivated injustices. Together, we must continue our work to find real solutions and insist that our institutions enact the policy changes necessary to address systemic racism. We must also acknowledge the mental health of Black and Brown Americans, many carrying the ongoing trauma and anger of watching repeatedly unarmed persons killed or brutalized by law enforcement while also dealing with everyday racially motivated aggressions.

In higher education, and specifically at UMass Amherst, fighting inequity means shedding light on what needs to change, and taking action to confront and reject racism. It means starting class by acknowledging news of painful events of racial violence (faculty, please give space in classes this week to acknowledge the verdict and these issues) and includes respectfully correcting one another if we err in our language or claims. And when BIPOC students are feeling stress, pain, and exhaustion from dealing everyday with racial violence and aggressions, it includes offering opportunities for them to speak with others about their struggles. The office of Student Affairs & Campus Life will host the following discussions in coming days:

Always Forward: A drop-in support group for BIPOC students (hosted by CCPH staff)
Every Thursday at 4:00 p.m.

Community Conversations (hosted by CCPH staff)
April 21, 3:00 pm & April 22, 4:00 p.m.

Take a Stand: Building Asian and Black Solidarity (hosted by a coalition of student groups including SASE and oSTEM)
April 23, 7:00 p.m.

HOLDING SPACE: Listen, Learn, Connect (hosted by CMASS staff)
April 26, 6:00 p.m.

In the College of Engineering, we are continuing to strive to build a more inclusive, socially conscious community:

  • Ongoing work to embed social justice topics into engineering curriculum
  • Building Engineering Allies for Equity Groups which we encourage all to join
  • Established DEI working groups in all our academic departments
  • Offering Engin 597E "Equity & Inclusion in Engineering Education – Challenges and Opportunities,” a 1-credit seminar open to all students and that welcomes faculty, staff, and alumni participation. For Fall 2021, it will be on Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m.

One additional step we are taking is to host a discussion with Ebony O. McGee, PhD author of Black, Brown, Bruised. Dr. McGee will share insight into her research and book, which brings together more than ten years of research on high achieving, underrepresented racially minoritized (URM) students and faculty in STEM fields. Dr. McGee offers a deep appreciation of what it means to be a STEMer of color and academically successful in contexts where people of color are few and negative beliefs about their ability and motivation persist.

BLACK, BROWN, BRUISED: How Racialized STEM Education Stifles Innovation
A conversation with Ebony O. McGee, PhD, Vanderbilt University
Tuesday, May 25th, Noon – 1:15 p.m. Registration required: public lecture registration
Join an advance reading groups here: reading group registration (bring your own book!)

As Chancellor Subbaswamy noted in his message yesterday, we know that our campus community is far from perfect, but "we must always strive to be better and to foster a community that is grounded in the concept of dignity and respect for all."

Sincerely,

Dean Sanjay Raman's signature
Sanjay Raman
Dean, College of Engineering
Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering