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Duke Responds to National Protests

President Vincent Price and other university leaders spoke this weekend about the protests arising across the country, condemning racial injustice and saying the university would take action and "continue the work of addressing generations of racism and injustice."

Price sent a message Saturday to the university community saying that the death of George Floyd involving four Minneapolis police officers “has drawn national attention to fundamental and systematic disparities of justice in our nation.”

“Every day, throughout our country, African American and other marginalized communities have their safety and dignity threatened—in their places of work, in public spaces, and in their homes and neighborhoods,” Price said. “This ongoing history of structural and sustained racism is a fundamental and deeply distressing injustice, here as elsewhere.”

But words alone will not bring change and Price committed the university to continuing its research and teaching on social justice issues and, on campus, seeking “ways to approach one another with respect, and of building communities that are truly safe, supportive, and inclusive for all.”

Read the full text of the message on Duke Today.

Leaders across the university shared the message of building a more equitable country and community within their own schools and units, particularly during the difficult moment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two medical leaders connected the racial inequities behind the protests to the need to overcome those inequities found in the health care system.

School of Medicine Dean Dr. Mary Klotman wrote the divisions sowed by racial injustice are “heartbreaking and painful to witness, especially for members of our African American community who are understandably feeling unsafe and vulnerable.”

“We reject the unacceptable acts that reflect deep injustices and disparities and we pledge to bring the power of our research, education and health care missions to expose and correct the underlying forces at the root of these injustices,” Klotman wrote.  Read the full text on the School of Medicine website.

Likewise, in an email to the School of Nursing community, Brigit Carter, associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the School of Nursing, encouraged the community to use their feelings to take action. “I challenge you not to let this become normal in your everyday life. It is not normal to see a black man die on television at the hands of a white law enforcement officer. It is not normal to see a black man out for a jog having to fight for his life at the hands of two white men that feel they have the right to take his life.”

Other leaders encouraged their communities to believe that they can help bring about change. In an email, Law School Dean Kerry Abrams emphasized the work that needs to be done to overcome structural racism.

“In our anger, frustration, and sadness over this callous loss of life, we must recommit ourselves to what we do best: ask hard and probing questions, conduct reasoned and thoughtful dialogue, and prepare our students for leadership in the face of injustice,” Abrams wrote. Read the full text on the Law School website.

Likewise, Sanford School Dean Judith Kelley acknowledged her frustration at the endless cycle of incidents social injustice, which she said seems “like a broken record” that can’t be stopped. But she added that Sanford is poised to present a different trajectory for society. “As a school of public policy, we have the opportunity to educate and create knowledge to set a better course for society,” Kelley wrote. Read the full statement on the Sanford website.

Both Abrams and Kelley announced that their schools will hold a school-wide discussion of these issues in the coming days. Others, such as Graduate School Dean Paula McClain, are connecting with students and faculty to support people who are struggling with the events.  In a community message to the Graduate School, McClain wrote the university needs to do a better job addressing issues of hate and bias. "Can we do better this time?" McClain wrote. "Can we, as a major educational institution, find a path that might lead to a better, fuller understanding of the country, of the world, and of each other? For the sake of our community, and the most vulnerable members in it, we must try."

In athletics, football coach David Cutcliffe posted a Twitter message speaking to racial injustice, and Vice President Kevin White posted a statement expressing repugnance at the recent deaths of African Americans in racial incidents. He challenged the university community to commit to building relationships built on respect with people of all backgrounds. “We have a collective responsibility to be leaders in our own capacity to invoke change and amplify our society's ability to live well within the guardrails that define both dignity and humanity,” White said.