Message of solidarity with the Asian American Community

Dear Students, Colleagues, and Friends of The Graduate School:

I write today with a heavy and fearful heart, brought on by the recent events in Atlanta and news of attacks on Asians and Asian-Americans. These events are yet another dark cloud during a very dark time in our country. During times like this—when it is hard to express my feelings in my own words—I often turn to the wisdom of Dr. Maya Angelou (1928-2014) who said: “The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes…”. Dr. Angelou’s words are particularly resonant today as our country struggles with two debilitating contagions: the COVID-19 pandemic, and an epidemic of racism. In some ways, her framing of racism as an infectious disease—driven by invisible, airborne particles that spread from person to person—is perfect. It casts racism as a communicable sickness that should be both guarded against and aggressively treated. It also suggests that, if treated, we can “get better” and recover from the racism that plagues our country. I believe that the “treatment” phase is where Dr. Angelou’s metaphor breaks down as the key to combating racism is to come together, as opposed to isolating and self-quarantining. Perhaps our University-wide commitment to “Build Our Community Together” is the perfect “vaccine” to both prevent and combat racism.

I realize that “Build Our Community Together” is a forward-looking initiative that will take some time to achieve and that graduate students need resources to cope with this situation in the nearer term. The Diversity and Student Success team in The Graduate School has resources that may be helpful to graduate students who seek a supportive community and our colleagues at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) are available to help students with the emotional trauma that these events have engendered. The Office of Student Wellness offers a variety of programs and trainings that can both promote well-being and provide a sense of community for graduate students. I hope graduate students will find these resources helpful while we continue to build our community.

Fellow Tar Heels, I urge you to come together to support the Asian and Asian-American members of our community and to combat the racism underlying the attacks they have endured. Although we are physically distant, we are still a strong community united by our mission to “…enhance the quality of life for all people…”. Let’s leverage the unique resources of this outstanding university to have the difficult conversations, make the plans and take the actions necessary to help our country to recover from its epidemic of racism. In Dr. Angelou’s words: “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” We have the power to secure our future, if we seize the opportunity afforded by this moment and come together as a community.

Suzanne Barbour
Dean of The Graduate School
March 18, 2021