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Butler’s Response to Racism and Social Injustice

We are aware that many in our community, not only students, have been personally affected by racism and social injustice. Just as it is our obligation to support our students at this critical moment in time, we also must support each other, and work collaboratively, as we strive to achieve meaningful and lasting progress towards our shared Butler mission and ideals.

June 19, 2020 from President Danko—Commemorating Juneteenth

Dear Butler Community Members,

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, the last enslaved people learned they were free—two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery. Yet here we are, 155 years later, at an unprecedented moment where the legacy of slavery in the form of systemic racism in the criminal justice system, and racial and economic disparities of Black people, have become so strikingly apparent. It compels every one of us to take time today, as we commemorate Juneteenth, to reflect, to learn, and to act upon the moral imperative to collectively change our society.

Let us also reflect on our own obligations here at Butler University. Since my May 31 message (see below), I have solicited insights from Butler students, alumni, faculty, and staff, asking them to share their views on whether we are ensuring that a Butler education is truly “available to all—regardless of race, gender, or religion.” Are there injustices or disparities on our campus preventing us from fulfilling the commitment of those words from our founding mission?

After several virtual meetings, email exchanges, and calls to discuss this question, I must tell you that I am alarmed, frustrated, and disappointed. While I want to believe that Butler is the inclusive, equitable, safe learning community we desire for all, the experiences of many confirm otherwise. As a committed leader, I am hopeful about the future of our great University. But I would be doing our community a disservice if I ignored Butler’s shortcomings, or pretended that Butler is immune to the injustice that continues to be a daily reality for so many people.

It alarms me to hear students, staff, and faculty of color report not feeling safe on our campus, or having been subjected to hate speech, threats, or blatant discrimination. It is frustrating to hear about faculty not addressing insensitive remarks made in our classrooms, or, worse, to hear that staff, faculty, and students have made such remarks. It’s heart-wrenching to know that there are Butler students and alumni whose longtime dreams of attending Butler have been tarnished by the reality of their experience. Finally, I am disappointed by our failure to achieve more racial diversity across campus, including in our senior leadership ranks. 

It is clear that we—myself included—collectively share the responsibility for falling short in making Butler the environment we envision when we cite our founding mission. 

Why is significant progress so difficult to achieve, despite the positive intentions and dedication of so many in our community who believe that seeking social justice is fundamental to the character of our learning environment? Certainly we have undertaken many efforts and made progress; for example, we are moving toward the goals set forth by our most recent Diversity Commission. 

We can offer reasons for our lack of progress—whether a shortfall of resources, or perhaps the slow nature of implementing change within an academic setting. But one thing has been made clear, in both internal discussions and the current state of our country: we must take action now. Thus, I am not going to form yet another task force to analyze, discuss, and recommend actions. Rather, I am going to be more directive in my approach to ensure that Butler fulfills its obligation to educate our students for the reality of the world into which they will graduate, a world in which discrimination has no place, not in our country and certainly not in our University.  

As such, I am charging each of our divisional and college leaders with producing a list of actions that will be undertaken across four key areas that I have broadly outlined below. By the time we start the fall semester, we will have specific actions vetted, approved, organized, and communicated to the Butler community. And I will commit sufficient resources to ensure that significant progress is made.

Education. As a University, we’re perfectly positioned to provide educational opportunities to all members of our community. The new Social Justice and Diversity requirement within the Core Curriculum is one positive step, but we can do even more for our students to raise awareness, improve dialogue, foster intercultural understanding, and help end racism. In addition, we must require education for ourselves—Butler employees, trustees, and advisory council members—for the same purposes.

Organization. How can we enhance the representational diversity of our campus community at all levels, including our student body, our faculty and staff, and our institutional leaders? 

Behavior. What actions are necessary to ensure that all members of our campus community engage in respectful dialogue and refrain from words and actions that are hurtful and offensive to members of our campus? Do we demonstrate, clearly and consistently, that racism is not tolerated at Butler University?

Procedure. Are our policies and procedures for identifying, reporting, adjudicating, and responding to bias incidents and policy violations comprehensive and transparent? Do we opt for policing and punishment over enhanced community services and support? 

The challenges above are premised upon the many experiences shared with me recently, but let me close with some words of wisdom I received from Butler Volleyball Coach Sharon Clark, as she describes the opportunity that this historic moment presents.

“My advice to us all at Butler is to step WAY OUTSIDE of our comfort zone and take the courageous road to be leaders in the higher education community. We have an opportunity to own our past injustices to students, staff, and faculty of color. To truly examine our present highly ineffective system of encouraging and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion on our campus. Finally, I am most encouraged by the huge opportunity we have to change Butler University into a place that looks, feels, and supports a diverse set of people. A place not simply for the privileged but a place where you and I can both be proud of the experience folks have in our space. As we are still quite homogenous and don’t truly reflect the global diversity they will step into in the work place. I always ask, If not us then who?”

We are called upon to truly live our mission as a University where all students, faculty, and staff are welcome, respected, and flourishing. As always, I welcome your thoughts. 

Sincerely,

James M. Danko,
President, Butler University

 

 

June 10, 2020 from VP Frank Ross—Opportunities for Student Sharing and Input

Dear Butler Students,

As I referenced in my last communication, as Butler responds to the racial injustice happening in our nation and in our community, we are providing opportunities for students to share their feelings and provide important feedback so that we as a University may improve.  

We are offering a number of virtual student forums that will include President Danko and other members of the Butler community and the Board of Trustees. We are here to listen, and want your thoughts on actionable measures that Butler can implement on campus.

The student forum schedule is as follows:

  • Thursday, June 11, 10:00–11:00 AM
  • Monday, June 15, 10:00–11:00 AM
  • Wednesday, June 17, 1:00–2:00 PM

Students will need to register in advance for the forum of their choice. To facilitate meaningful participation, each student forum will be limited to 25 participants.

In addition to the virtual student forums, we have created an online opportunity for students to provide input and share ideas directly with University leadership. Also, our Colleges and other areas of campus will be creating opportunities for listening and input-gathering from members of our community during the coming weeks.

And again, please remember that our Diversity Center is offering a number of trainings throughout the summer that will provide additional opportunities for learning and dialogue.

Black lives matter, and we must improve. We are committed to listening to you, and we will take action. 

 

Frank E. Ross III, PhD
Pronouns: he, him, his
Vice President for Student Affairs

June 7, 2020 from President Danko—Putting Action Behind our Words

Dear Students,

In response to my community statement last week, and within the context of the understandable anger and pain that has been expressed over the past two weeks across the country, I have heard from many of you about your own feelings, concerns, and some very specific examples of racism and injustice on our own campus.

While we often cite Butler’s founding mission as our “true north,” there are indeed examples in our own history, both long ago and in more recent times, of our failure to live up to these ideals. There are also instances within our community that do not reflect our values, including an incredibly disturbing photo many of you have shared with me in the past few days. Inevitably, at a university of our size—a microcosm of society with many backgrounds and attitudes represented—unacceptable behaviors will occur. And, as with society at large, we must constantly strive to do better. 

At this moment in time, we are experiencing an unprecedented call to action, perhaps more appropriately, a justifiable demand for action. We will not let this moment pass. We will put action behind our words. 

My statement last weekend, as well as other messages I’ve shared on the heels of unjust and hateful actions over the years, represent who I am and how I was raised: to respect all people. I also know from reactions to my messages that the vast majority of Butler community members feel the same way. Let me also be clear that while someone in my position and with my privileges has not personally experienced the injustice, discrimination, trauma, and loss that many of those who are rightfully angry today have, I can assure you of my deep commitment and my resolve to make changes to ensure we are on the right course to positive progress. I can also assure you that I am listening to—and truly hearing—your feedback. 

With COVID-19 and many students away from campus, we naturally have some challenges in gathering in person. However as announced by Vice President Frank Ross, we are beginning the action process with a series of Zoom meetings next week. Butler University leaders, including Trustees, will be part of our meetings to help ensure that our words are backed up with action and resources. In addition, the Office of Student Affairs is creating an online mechanism whereby students may share their feelings, provide feedback, and submit ideas for positive change.

In the midst of these historic and troubling times, I am proud of those of you engaged in social action to address racism and injustice. Even though many of you are at a distance from campus, we remain connected through our affiliation with Butler. Let us work together in achieving meaningful and lasting progress towards our shared ideals.

I welcome your continued comments and suggestions. 

Best regards,

James M. Danko, President
 

June 5, 2020 from VP Frank Ross—Student Forums Addressing Social Injustice

Dear Butler students,

We have heard from many of you this week, and I thank you for reaching out to express your feelings and concerns about racism and social injustices. Members of our community are hurting, and that affects us all. 

I wanted to follow up on my message from last weekend to announce a series of virtual forums for Butler students starting next week. I invite all current students to take part in the conversation, which will include President Danko and other members of the faculty, staff, and administration. We will discuss the racial injustice happening in our nation and in our community, and actionable measures that Butler can implement on campus. More information on the forums, including a link for registration, will be communicated next week. 

We are in this together, and I ask that you continue learning and supporting one another during this difficult time. As President Danko said, we are still connected to each other as members of the Butler community, even at a distance, and we must be mindful of those in our community whose lives are personally affected by issues of racism, social injustice, and economic disparity.

We are here for you. We are listening. And we will do more.

Frank E. Ross III, PhD
Pronouns: he, him, his
Vice President for Student Affairs

May 31, 2020 from VP Frank Ross—The Importance of Coming Together

Dear Butler students,

The past several months have been extremely complex in ways that we never could have expected. Students and members of our community have demonstrated considerable resilience in the face of uncertainty, cared for one another, and successfully completed the spring semester by overcoming many obstacles.

Still, we face many challenges. The pandemic has exacerbated health and economic struggles for those most vulnerable in our communities, while racism, xenophobia, and acts of religious intolerance have been brought to the forefront of society. The racial violence that has always been present in our nation is now undeniably in full view, most recently with the horrific killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We should be outraged about this and other incidents of racial injustice taking place across the country. I also know for some of our students, this has a deeply personal impact.

At times like this when people are hurting, it is so important for us to come together. I wish we had that ability in person now. Even as we are all away from campus, please remember that we care about you and are here for you. The University offers many resources that can be found online through our bias response page and also through BUBeWell. In addition, the Efroymson Diversity Center is hosting a number of trainings and discussions for the remainder of the summer that are open to all members of our community. I encourage you to consider these opportunities both to expand your own learning and to develop and strengthen your skills as an ally in supporting others.

As members of the Butler community, we must do the work to advance inclusivity and ensure everyone feels welcomed and respected. We have a duty to uphold these standards in our words and our actions at all times. It is our collective responsibility as Bulldogs to stand up against acts of injustice and to lead with integrity, compassion and courage. 

Please continue to take care of yourselves and each other.

Sincerely,

Frank E. Ross III, PhD
Pronouns: he, him, his
Vice President for Student Affairs

May 31, 2020 from President Danko—Message to the Butler Community

Dear Butler Community Members,

The historic legacy of Butler University has its origins in its founding mission of 1855. Five years before the outbreak of civil war that divided our nation over issues of slavery and succession, Ovid Butler and community leaders established North Western Christian University, the forbearer of today’s Butler University. Central to its unwavering sense of purpose was the fundamental belief that education should be available to all—regardless of race, gender, or religion.

Today I would like to share thoughts on a broader set of issues confronting us. The global health crisis of the past few months is now intersecting with a major national crisis: civil unrest sweeping across the nation rooted in social injustice and economic disparity. The grief and anger being expressed in cities throughout the country was sparked by the inexcusable killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We must recognize that the origins of this grief and anger run much deeper as structural racism has historically disadvantaged Black Americans and people of color. Incidences of racial profiling have become an all-too-common occurrence.

While the pandemic is affecting universities in profound ways, higher education cannot abdicate its responsibility to be leaders of dialogue about the many issues our nation is confronting. We are part of a community of learners that values well-reasoned, evidence-based, compassionate dialogue. Let us not accept all narratives. Let us work to find the common ground of truth that can lead us all to better solutions.

The health crisis and the end of the academic year have removed us from our personal interactions. But even at a distance, we are still connected to each other as members of the Butler community. Let us be mindful of those community members whose lives are personally affected by issues of racism, social injustice, and economic disparity, especially our students who depend upon us to serve as educators and role models. Let us also be sensitive to the many members of our community facing serious pandemic-related challenges—whether physical, emotional, or financial.

Inherent in our founding mission, and reinforced by the contemporary “Butler Way,” is our shared moral obligation to strive for a world in which the rights of all people are respected, and equal opportunities are afforded, regardless of race, or whatever identities and backgrounds people represent.

It is my hope that everyone in the Butler community accepts leadership responsibility to reenergize and reinforce the positive and fair-minded principles upon which this country was founded, and which were further underscored by President Abraham Lincoln—that all individuals are created equal with the right for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I am confident that such values were in the mind of Ovid Butler when he founded our institution, and they remain ones to which we are collectively beholden today.

I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

Sincerely,

James M. Danko, President
Butler University