Dive Brief:

  • College leaders affirmed the need for continued work to address systemic racial inequity as protests over the death of George Floyd and other racial prejudices roil the country. 

  • Generally, their statements acknowledge several racist acts that gained national attention in recent weeks and the trauma their campuses may be experiencing as a result. They also offer access to campus resources, such as counseling services.

  • Some leaders were more explicit in their comments, calling out the brutal actions of police and expressing solidarity with protesters.

Dive Insight:

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died last week after a white officer with the Minneapolis Police Department put a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. After a video of the incident, which shows Floyd begging for his life, circulated the internet, the officer was fired and later charged with murder and manslaughter. Three other officers present during the incident were also fired.

The episode ignited protests and other demonstrations across the country, with some turning destructive at times.

The University of Minnesota took the most immediate action after Floyd’s death. President Joan Gabel announced the university would limit its involvement with Minneapolis police. It will no longer contract with them to provide support for athletics, concerts and other large university events, as well as for specialized services such as K-9 explosive-detection units, Gabel wrote in a letter to campus. 

“I stand united with the community in demanding accountability and justice,” Gabel wrote in a separate tweet.

Before the announcement, the university’s undergraduate student body president demanded the institution sever all ties with the force.

More college leaders chimed in as the protests and demonstrations developed. Just before midnight Saturday, a wide contingent of campus leaders at the University of California, Los Angeles crafted a statement

Their message, like other colleges’, mentioned the recent killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, both of whom were black. Police fatally shot Taylor while executing a search warrant at her apartment, and two white men have been charged with murder in Arbery’s death. 

But the UCLA leaders, which include the president of the Undergraduate Students Association, called attention to the circumstances of Floyd’s death: “What was so chilling was the relaxed demeanor of a police officer — sworn to protect and to serve — his hands calmly in his pockets, kneeling on the neck of a fellow human being, indifferent to his cries of pain and the fear for his life.”

Others were more brief. Thomas LeBlanc, president of George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., wrote that he was feeling “sad and angry” about the trio of “brutal” killings but was looking forward to addressing issues of prejudice.

Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow was criticized for his message, in which he provided a litany of his beliefs on such topics as the Constitution, justice and the American dream. But some perceived his missive as tone-deaf, evading actual discussion of racial inequalities. 

Other presidents, such as Trinity Washington University’s Patricia McGuire, and Georgetown University’s John DeGioia, both in Washington, D.C., shared statistics about persistent racial inequities in the U.S.

Georgetown pointed out that in multiple states, deaths related to the coronavirus have been disproportionately in the black community. 

“There are other structures — economic, educational, housing, criminal justice — that sustain inequity and inequality that are the enduring legacy of our American history,” DeGioia wrote.

Meanwhile, McGuire called out President Donald Trump, saying he has spent years “encouraging the climate of white supremacy and police brutality that undergird the latest crisis.”

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