College towns not insulated from violence
Saturday, the news was barely out about clashes in Charlottesville, Va., between white supremacy groups and demonstrators against them before we started hearing from people who were anxious and upset about the events. Then, when violence erupted, and Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old local woman, died tragically after a man drove his car through the crowd, fear and anxiety grew. Two state troopers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates, also died on Saturday and at least 34 were injured by the day’s end. (Read more about the events here.)
We can empathize with the shock and horror in Charlottesville as an end-of-summer Saturday turned life-ending and heart-rending in seconds. It was a despicable, senseless act of violence. Events at the University of California at Berkeley and Middlebury College in Vermont, among others, in the past year, have signaled the increasing polarization of American society. How does one respond? False reassurance is dishonest communication.
I doubt that this will be the last violent act that will strike our peaceful campuses and college towns, turning ordinary days and even planned demonstrations that, by every right, should be civil, into moments of panic and never-ending sadness for those touched by these events.
People in leadership, such as presidents of countries, and those leading universities and companies, as well as community leaders and citizens, should condemn hatred born out of racism, anti-Semitism and other “isms.” We must make it clear that white supremacy has no place in our society, and that we welcome all who live here in peace, civility and respect for all. Let me say it clearly: White supremacy language is unacceptable, and it has no place in the Gillings School.
Since the 2016 election, hatred seems to have been unleashed in a way we haven’t seen in years. Hatred erupted in Charlottesville. When the leader of our country is slow to denounce the forces of hatred, they may be emboldened.
In the face of these events, it is appropriate that people are angry and anxious, but we should not be incapacitated or apathetic. Many from both political parties responded with strongly worded denunciations of the violence. Yet, no matter how anemic the response of our leaders, we should be outraged by the hatred that gave way to events in Charlottesville and so many other places around the world. At the Gillings School, there is no room for hatred. We offer our most profound sympathy and solidarity with the people of Charlottesville, a southern college town much like our own.
Over the past 18 months, we repeatedly have come together as a school to grieve, express anger, learn and organize in the face of injustice, exclusion and racism. We’ll invite all of you in the next day or two to join us again for this purpose.
In the coming semester, we will have more, and more organized, ways of responding to structural inequities and to the kind of outright racism, hatred and violence we have seen in Charlottesville, here in Chapel Hill and elsewhere.
- On Friday, Sept. 29, the Gillings School will host the 23rd National Health Equity Research Webcast, The Courage to Lead: Scholar-Activism and Health Equity in Turbulent Times, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. This event is free and open to the public – in the Joan Heckler Gillings Auditorium (133 Rosenau Hall) and online. Three leaders in health equity – Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, senior fellow, at Morehouse School of Medicine’s Satcher Health Leadership Institute and Cardiovascular Research Institute; Andrew Curley, postdoctoral fellow in the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Geography; and Paul Cuadros, associate professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism – will share their thoughts on scholar activism. Their talks will be followed by a question-and-answer forum moderated by Dr. Wizdom Powell, director of the Health Disparities Institute at the University of Connecticut Health Center and associate professor of psychiatry at University of Connecticut School of Medicine. What better way to channel our energies than to organize in this way?
- We are in the midst of a search for an assistant dean for inclusive excellence for the Gillings School. We look forward to the outstanding, responsive programming in diversity, inclusion and equity that this individual can help us support. The next public presentation by one of the candidates will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 15 from 11 a.m. to noon in 133 Rosenau Hall.
- Students, the Minority Student Caucus at the Gillings School is highly active and is an important resource for information and action. The MSC president and co-president can help set the agenda for the academic year. Contact Samuel Baxter (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Caitlin Williams (email@example.com).
- Several departments at the Gillings School may be hosting events as well. Stay tuned for more information.
- Of course, we also strongly encourage you to participate in the events and programs supported by the University.
As a community, we are committed to sharing our strength with each other, and that includes supporting and promoting equity and inclusion.