Message on racism and accountability from Dean Barbour

Dear Colleagues:

Like other Carolina leaders who have shared their thoughts, I am horrified by recent events in our country. The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are the latest in what feels like an unending assault on the lives of African Americans, and Christian Cooper’s experience in Central Park illuminates the sense of privilege and superiority that impinges on liberty and underscores much of the violence that has been meted out against African Americans.

The events that have transpired over the last few days have prompted long overdue reflection and discussion about the disparities and overt racism that persist in our country. We now have powerful tools — cell phone cameras and social media — that allow us to capture and share images that both enrage and engage. We each interpret those images through our unique filters of privilege, shame, hatred and bitterness — filters that have been nurtured within us by our upbringing, education and lived experience. Our filters also influence the way we interpret the loud and often divisive voices that seek to force their interpretations on us. This scenario of observation, interpretation, influence and division has been played out over and over, throughout the history of our great country.

How do we break this futile cycle? How do we move beyond the siloed interpretations and judgments that have limited our ability to address the disparities that are sewn into the fabric of our nation? Perhaps it starts with humility and the need to check the privileges and assumptions that are so ingrained that we rarely perceive them. The next step is likely conversation and humble listening about our challenges, transgressions and opportunities. Hopefully, those conversations will result in a call to action for both our leaders and ourselves. Our next challenge will be to hold our leaders and each other accountable for the changes in approach, attitude and action that will be necessary to achieve the “liberty and justice for all” that we espouse in our Pledge of Allegiance.

The Graduate School stands ready to participate in the tough conversations that are ahead of our campus community, both as speaker and as a humble listener. We look forward to partnering with students, faculty, alumni and community members as we identify actions needed to effect the change that is needed on our campus and beyond. We invite you to hold us accountable as we do our part to work towards that change.

Although the road ahead of us is uncertain, I am convinced that we can, together, move forward to a more equitable and inclusive future.

Suzanne Barbour
Dean of The Graduate School