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A Message from Dean Matthews: Taking Responsibility for Systemic Change – A Beginning

A message from Dean Matthews about taking responsibility for systemic change.

June 12, 2020

Dear Liberal Arts Faculty, Staff, and Students,

The Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison puts these chilling words in the mouth of one of her characters: “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” It is long past the time to change this. 

As the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, I pledge anew to honor the values of our collective disciplines and embrace the full human potential for all who learn, teach, and work amongst us. The liberal arts are fundamentally about people–their history, their behavior, their creations, their dreams and aspirations. The word “liberal” shares its root with “liberty” and “liberation,” and the liberal arts are founded on the openness, generosity, and broad-mindedness necessary for people to be free. 

Despite these foundational ideals, we have not done enough. We have failed to listen actively and to understand profoundly. We have failed to celebrate the joy of others and to share in others’ grief. Too many of us have failed to recognize that the freedoms we enjoy every day have depended on the subjugation of others. And those of us in positions of privilege have failed to take responsibility for making the structural alterations necessary for meaningful change.

The hard work of systemic change must take on new urgency. Racism and all other forms of intolerance must have no place in our college or anywhere else.

Initiatives small and large, short- and long-term, are under discussion. But this is not work that can be accomplished by making lists only. This is the moment to focus earnestly on long-term, sustainable, and scalable structural change. In the coming days, I will be reaching out to you with opportunities for me to listen and for you to assist with this important work. Our college website and social media accounts will list opportunities to engage via Zoom in conversations aimed at creating meaningful change. We will begin later this month with Black students, then Black faculty and staff. Other group invitations will follow.

Know with certainty that this is only the beginning.

Pam Matthews