President-Elect Johnson: Albion Must Be Boldly and Courageously Anti-Racist

June 2, 2020

Earlier today, President-Elect Dr. Mathew Johnson shared the following message with the Albion College community.

To the Albion College Community,

The violence against the Black community witnessed in recent days, at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve, is only the latest in a long history of violence perpetrated by authorities in our society. The murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Tony McDade reflect deeply seeded white supremacist values that perpetuate the killing of Black people with impunity. I am deeply saddened and angry. I want to acknowledge the pain inflicted on the families of these victims and on Black communities writ large. I want to acknowledge the grief and despair I have heard from members of Albion’s Black community and from many non-Black allies. I know the pain and grief of this moment is but one moment in a long historical stream of deadly assaults on Black America.

The continuity of violence against Black bodies from the slave catchers of the South, the lynchings of the Jim Crow era, and these acts of violence illustrate how powerfully white supremacy undergirds the history of policing in our country. If my use of white supremacy is jarring, I invite you to consider the poetry of Guante—“How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist.” The ending is a revelation and the poem illustrates well why we all are so often blind to the white supremacy all around us.

The violence and death faced by the Black community is not merely the result of individuals, it is the inevitable outcome of structural and institutional racism. White supremacy is built into and permeates the way we organize and operate our society. As public health leaders have recently noted, white supremacy is a lethal public health issue. We must move away from questions about individual racism or racist behavior and onto our complicity in racist systems, or we will not move forward.

White supremacist values are so deeply embedded in our society that individuals who believe deeply in equality and diversity—who consider themselves non-racist—unknowingly inhabit and support racist systems that harm, traumatize and kill Black people. While white people openly protest COVID-19 public health measures on the steps of our State Capitol fully armed, Black people cannot safely go to the store, run in their neighborhood or sleep in their homes.

We must move beyond questions of our own personal racism. At Albion, we need to begin asking new questions, like:

  • What does it mean when our policies lead to different outcomes for our Black and white students?
  • What does it mean when Black students do not see themselves reflected in our faculty and staff?
  • What does it mean when faculty and staff make reference to cultural stories and customs of white, middle class, suburban life as though it were the norm for everyone?
  • What does it mean when we ask how we can change students into what we want, rather than change ourselves into the institution that students need us to be?

It means that while every person at Albion—faculty, staff, students—might claim to be non-racist in their personal life, enjoy the company of friends and family who are Black, and is grateful for the diversity of our student population, we have not done enough to root out the white supremacist ideology baked into the institution’s DNA as it is baked into every institution’s DNA across the country.

While change is long overdue and any action will be insufficient compared to the injustice that has taken place, I believe that action must be taken NOW. For this reason, I am asking for every administrative and academic unit of the College to join me in:

  1. Developing our collective understanding of what is meant by anti-racist work. I invite every member of our community to take a look at this resource from the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian.
  2. Committing to learning more as an individual about how white supremacist values are so ubiquitous that we assume they are right and the natural ways of being in our organizational life. One resource to consider is this worksheet.
  3. Developing a Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP) for your unit. In the next few weeks I will be assembling a DIAP Task Force from among the many faculty and staff who have been engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion work already. I will ask them to move forward in a process that challenges each and every unit on campus—academic and administrative—to develop a plan which clearly and publicly articulates goals for how they will commit to improving equity and inclusive hiring, teaching and serving our students.

Speaking directly to the Black members of our community—Black students, Black staff, Black faculty, Black Albion community members, Black parents and siblings: Albion is here for the Black community and we hear you! We hear, we see and we feel the hurt and anger. We stand together against racism, hatred and injustice. We stand with you against the violence and murder that flows from a society built on structural racism and white supremacy. We are here for justice and will not tolerate continued injustice. We stand with you!

In the coming days I will be speaking with the Black Alumni Chapter, and members of the faculty and staff, to explore ways we might work together to offer opportunities for further discussion and actionable support of our Black community. I again ask all of you, particularly white members of the Albion community, to join me in thinking about what we must do to change the systems that lead to these outcomes. In these coming days and weeks, I ask that you reach out to one another, extend support to our Black community and think about ways to be a force of change in your own communities.

Dr. Mathew B. Johnson officially begins his tenure as Albion College’s 17th president on July 1, 2020.