Committing to a campus culture that supports others

CANR Dean Ron Hendrick makes a renewed commitment to ally ourselves in ways that serve and support others, especially those who have been marginalized or hurt by recent events.

Colleagues:

I’d intended for this communication to address what’s going to be a somewhat rough road ahead of us as the full impact of the COVID-19 virus manifests itself. I was going to write of budget and logistical difficulties. Of the manner in which members of our community have been impacted in their personal lives. And of their losses and struggles and the further blurring of work and personal lives as we figure out our individual and collective futures.

And then George Floyd’s death – under the figurative and literal killing weight of the law – visibly and indelibly etched in our minds, and but one in a long list of such deaths, especially in the African American community – changed that. I’m horrified by it, as I was by the recent and senseless killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. And, I’ve been moved by the many protests and marches of the last several days, even as I’ve been left frustrated by the manner in which some have been co-opted to violent ends.

It would be easy to pin responsibility for these injustices on “the few” – corrupt officials or officers, agencies, outside agitators, overt racists or communities – and for us to once again take a comfortable step back from confronting some unpleasant and systemic realities. But that would be a mistake, and too easy a way out, especially for those of us who experience them vicariously, if at all.

The killing of Ahmaud Arbery fit some familiar stereotypes about the southern United States. That makes it convenient, particularly for those located elsewhere, to attribute it to geographical presumptions about culture and corruption. But our fellow citizens like George Floyd are – and have been – dying needlessly in communities led and populated by people who have long prided themselves on ideologies and values like equity, inclusion and opportunity.

It’s likewise convenient to view this through an academic lens that we pretend is also based on those same stated values. But decades of sexual misconduct, and the racist events on campus this past academic year, aren’t consistent with a campus or culture that truly embraces those values. Nor are the other myriad forms of abuse and bullying that occur in every higher education institution. Instead, the academy remains one of society’s most hypocritical and elitist bodies. It’s easy and convenient for academics to criticize profits over people. It’s much less so to reckon with a culture that too often values its own currencies – papers, grants and promotions – over people as well.

So now, and going forward how do we reconcile our reality with our values during this time of crisis or, rather, crises? Something I was told by a mentor, as the Nassar crisis unfolded was very helpful at the time, and I return to it often: Find your center, and act from there. That is, revisit your core principles, align with them, and then make decisions and take action accordingly.

For us, that means remembering we are here to help others succeed, along with ourselves. In our present circumstance, that involves reaching out to check on the well-being of our colleagues and students, especially those most likely to be affected by the traumas we’ve witnessed. It means offering active support, now and into the future. It means setting aside our necessary embrace of virtual work, to virtually embrace others who need it.

Over the longer term, it means continuing, and accelerating where possible, our efforts to better our campus culture, in CANR and across MSU. It means a commitment to ally ourselves in ways that serve and support others, especially those who have been further marginalized or hurt by recent events on and off campus. And it means not appropriating, and not letting others appropriate, their pain or expressions thereof for our own ends.

It means acknowledging that our words have not always aligned with action, rendering them hollow for those who’ve seen opportunities lost and promises unfilled, and making a renewed commitment to change that. It means accepting the shortcomings and failings in academic and social structures, and working actively to remedy them.

I appreciate the leadership of Associate Dean Quentin Tyler’s leadership in these and other areas, and the commitment to positive change so many you are demonstrating. I urge you to take his message to heart, and reach out to colleagues, students and family members.

Sincerely,

Ron Hendrick, Ph.D.
Professor and Dean
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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