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A Message from Dean Wofford in Response to the Current Protests

Jun 2, 2020

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Dear Gallatin Community,

I write to express my anger and grief at the terrible death of George Floyd, who suffered visibly and then died beneath the knee of a Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer. I write also on behalf of the broader Gallatin community to articulate values that I believe have been important historically to the School. I stand, and we have stood as a School, against anti-Black violence and the institutional racism that supports it. My outrage at George Floyd’s painful and unjust individual death is intensified by recognizing that it is the most recent of a long line of systematic episodes of police violence against Black people and people of color. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery are recent examples of murders that have become all too familiar. Additionally, we must remember Eric Garner, the New Yorker whose death six years ago so closely resembles that of George Floyd. These are just a few of the names of Black people who have been killed by police officers and racist individuals. They constitute a line of violence and abuse that stretches back through the history of lynching to the oppression and violence of slavery.

When we add to the history of murders and violence against Black people the disparate impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, especially here in New York, the systematic inequality and injustice of this society, and the failure of its institutions to make a substantive difference are all too clear.

In this context, the widespread protests that started in Minneapolis, and have been occurring this past weekend in most major cities in the US, including in New York, speak powerfully against racism, against police violence, and against the inequities and injustices that makes such racist murder structurally possible. They also speak for the statement, so simple and yet so crucial, that “Black Lives Matter.” We stand with the protesters and value their civic action as a political statement against this injustice. Far from being an act of “domestic terrorism,” the protests speak to the importance—the necessity—that we face the racism and inequality of this society and begin to work to change it.

My words are inadequate to express the depth and complexity of this moment, but it is important to try to be explicit. So I call upon everyone in the Gallatin community to acknowledge the history of racial injustice and the ravaging inequalities it has produced, in our society, in our city, and in our own university community. It is important that we accept collective responsibility—this is not just the moral failure of an earlier era—it is the moral crisis of our own current moment. I believe that by recognizing our responsibility, we can begin the process of change that is needed. We need to verbalize and be explicit about our resistance to racism of all kinds, especially anti-Black racism.

These events cannot only be addressed through grief and anger: we must look at what can be done within our own community to support Black students, staff, and faculty, and students, staff, and faculty of color more fully. We need to recognize that the historical systemic injustice against black and brown members of our community means they carry a disproportionate burden. We need to work in terms of curriculum, in terms of faculty hiring (to increase the courses taught by Black professors and professors of color), and in terms of social programming to make sure our Black students and students of color can build ties with faculty, staff, each other and other students. These are just a few of the steps that we need to take as a community, and we will begin them in earnest in the coming academic year.

The Gallatin Student Council has asked me to point members of our community, especially students, to the following resources: and You can read their solidarity statement, sent to all students, at the first link.

As I conclude, I also call your attention to President Hamilton’s message to the NYU community sent Sunday night. NYU stands against racist violence, and, as President Hamilton says, "needs to work internally to see what can be done to diminish it."

Finally, this opinion piece by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one that I found very valuable. It provides important thoughts about how to understand the historical moment we are in, and I recommend it to you.

Susanne Wofford
Dean, The Gallatin School