A statement to the Carleton community

2 June 2020
By President Steve Poskanzer

I reach out to the Carleton community in a time of torment.

Last week’s police brutality that murdered a Black man, George Floyd, is outrageous and terrifying. It has added another layer of fear, pain, and outrage to our senses, which are already battered by a global pandemic whose impact falls disproportionately on the poor, the disadvantaged, Black and African-American communities, and other persons of color.

On Friday St. Olaf and Carleton issued a joint statement of anguish and intention to work together against racism, hatred, and ignorance in our shared community. But I understand—and have heard from so many of you—that the Carleton community itself is reeling, and that many faculty, staff, and especially students are frightened and angry, and seek to hear more from their own College and its leadership at this wrenching time. I hope to begin to address some of these needs in this letter. Today I am writing not just on behalf of Carleton but also from my own perspective, speaking more personally than I usually do. The circumstances warrant this. It might seem that the extent to which we can bear witness to each other’s suffering right now is diminished due to the distances between us, but I am seeing and hearing much distress, and I feel this sharply.

We are all horrified by George Floyd’s death and heartbroken for his family. As many commentators, protestors, and some of you have correctly pointed out, we are rooted in an unending cycle of violence directed at persons of color, especially Black men and women who already bear the legacy of centuries of enslavement and racial violence. Mr. Floyd’s tragic murder at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers has raised yet again deep and profoundly troubling questions about police brutality, violence in our society, and both personal and institutionalized racism.

Certainly these are issues that are critical for all of us at Carleton to grapple with, teach about, research, study, and discuss—and we must take action to help rectify them. Our faculty, staff, and students have much knowledge and valuable insights to bring to this dialogue and the ensuing policy debates. Knowledge gained in this way will let us deepen our understanding, be more thoughtful and engaged citizens, and help us build and maintain the kinds of local, state, national, and global communities in which all will genuinely thrive and be proud to live.

We cannot achieve this shared understanding without also addressing racism and other forms of hatred and ignorance in our individual lives. Each of us must seriously examine our own role and function in our culture at this time, including identifying the blind spots from which we suffer, the prejudices we carry, and the range of our personal responsibility. This has been a focus of my own reading and thinking and conversations in recent days, and I urge all of us—especially those of us vested with various kinds of privilege—to do the same.

And this is also a time where we need to look deeply at our own College and local community and commit ourselves to identifying and addressing the assumptions, prejudices and racism that can grow within institutions. Carleton and Northfield also have such deep-seated problems. We should particularly use this stark and disturbing time to consider and make needed improvements to our College. We must have candid, even if at times necessarily painful, conversations among students, staff, faculty, and alumni about these matters. I will be part of such discussions, and I look in particular to CEDI—Carleton’s Community Equity Diversity, and Inclusion council—to play a leadership role in these efforts, along with faculty and administrative leadership. Some initial actions we will take are to engage with the Black Student Alliance and with the faculty in the Africana Studies Program. CEDI will schedule open talking circles to take place both before and after exams.

While the academic year is drawing to a close, we cannot brush aside these issues to await the return of students and faculty in the fall—particularly when we still face uncertainty about the nature and schedule of the coming academic year. Accordingly, I ask each of you to join in the dialogue now and over the summer about how Carleton can be true to its aspirations and its best self. Just as we have been learning to do our academic work and to run much of the College remotely these last three months, some of this dialogue will need to be virtual. And some of these discussions and the resultant actions will also need to extend into the next academic year so they can draw upon the direct face-to-face exchanges that lead to the deepest understanding and longest-lasting breakthroughs.

Let us engage in this work together.

Steve Poskanzer

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