On today's verdict and our way forward
The last year has been marked not just by the COVID-19 pandemic but also the broader conversation of injustices in our nation in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and sadly, many more Black Americans.
As your university president, I care deeply about our students, faculty, and staff and I recognize what this trial means to your sense of safety and how society values you. I feel this too. Black Americans who look like me – who look like my stepson – have been killed. Research from the universities of Rutgers, Washington (St. Louis) and Michigan released in 2019, before Mr. Floyd’s death, found the lifetime risk of Black men and boys being killed by police use of force is one in every 1,000. This is an epidemic and unacceptable in a country as great as ours.
Tragically, nothing can bring back Mr. Floyd or others who have lost their lives, but I am hopeful that the outcome of this trial represents a step forward, both in holding people accountable and in meaningful social progress.
This verdict is not, in my view, a condemnation of all people who serve in law enforcement. In fact, I am grateful to those who step forward to serve others and are dedicated professionals. However, this is an opportunity for increased accountability and training within law enforcement agencies and the impetus for productive, ongoing engagement between agencies and the communities they serve. We need to continue dialogue, education and efforts that prevent the unimaginable, unwarranted deaths of other human beings. We need this to happen for the future of all Americans and we need it now.
Amid such tragedies, there has been reason for optimism too. Broader conversations about racism and injustice are happening, more voices are joining in to say Black Lives Matter. The calls for change are getting louder and more frequent. We need to turn these voices into actions.
As an urban research university, we have a special responsibility to be thought leaders, to study the world and develop ways to make it more humane, inclusive, and effective. And we have a moral responsibility to examine what we at UNLV are doing and continually strive to do better. As I mentioned during my State of the University address in January, promoting and supporting a culture of social justice, equity and inclusion is an integral part of our Top Tier goals. This is the only way we can have an environment that welcomes and supports everyone as one of the most diverse universities in the country.
We will continue to empower those with expertise in equity and inclusion, among them the Anti-Black Racism Task Force, the MSI Task Force, the Office of Diversity Initiatives, Student Diversity and Social Justice and the Intersection. I challenge us to turn current conversations into actions so that our students, faculty and staff see tangible evidence of our commitments. It is essential that we provide our students with skills they can use to change the world for good. I can’t think of a more meaningful legacy we could build together.
I also want to acknowledge there have been multiple shootings that have happened across our country over the past year, including today. I haven’t commented about each but I want you to know I am aware and I do care. It is a very sad reality that these events are occurring with such regularity that we simply cannot comment on each one. But each one is a loss to our society and should deepen our commitment to finding ways to preserve life.
Also remember that UNLV offers multiple resources to support your mental and physical health. The pandemic has resulted in extraordinary stress for many, which is compounded by national events and the demands of our daily lives. Students can access a variety of support services through the Student Wellness Center. Faculty and staff can access mental health services by visiting the Work/Life page through Human Resources.
Change is in all of our hands, and we can start with our university. Each one of us has a stake in the future of UNLV. I hope you will join me in helping shape it into an even better community.
Keith E. Whitfield, Ph.D.