Presidential Message: June 1, 2020
Dear Arcadia Community,
Over the weekend, images of uprisings and rebellion in Philadelphia and around the nation filled our social media feeds and television screens. Sadly, the images were dominated by looting and vandalism, not the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors who are outraged by white supremacy, police brutality, systemic racism and violence, and the many other injustices facing the Black community, people of color more broadly, and different marginalized identities. On Saturday, I joined the Justice for George Floyd protest in Philadelphia, where thousands of peaceful protestors chanted in unison, “No Justice, No Peace.” Our bond was fueled by anger, but also by a deep desire to effect positive change in our community and the world.
I am outraged, disappointed, and disgusted by the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. In addition to describing some tangible action steps in this letter, this is an important opportunity for me to speak directly to our Black community members: We hear you, we care for you, and we will do right by you. We are in solidarity with you against the oppressive systems that continue to plague our local, national, and global communities. We will not tolerate injustice here or anywhere. The effects of recent and past traumatic events, and the culmination of aggressions, place a heavy burden on individuals, families, and communities. The Black community in particular has, for far too long, held the weight of injustice on their shoulders. How we respond as an institution of higher education in support of our Black community members matters. We must do more to support you during these trying times.
Time is not on our side. Every moment we wait means another life may be lost. The pressing questions for Arcadia are: How will we mobilize around these issues even more profoundly than we already are on a local, national, and global scale? How will we live up to our mission and vision as an institution that strives to be socially just? What does it mean to reimagine our University and inspire radical change? The purpose of my letter today is to set the stage for key opportunities and continue the dialogue on these pressing questions, understanding that we must unite our entire community to transform Arcadia positively.
By now, you know that I am not shy about sharing my opinion with stakeholders. There will be many more messages that will be needed from other community members and me to update and engage the community in our fight against systemic racism and violence.
Reimagining the University
Ultimately, our goal must be nothing less than radical change at Arcadia and beyond. Radical change means reimagining the University to transform into reality the vision of our campus communities as caring and diverse centers of learning, where all students are afforded equal access to opportunities to grow, learn, and contribute to the greater good.
Since I arrived at Arcadia, we have made good progress in building an infrastructure to effect change. We have discovered a promising foundation by nurturing a community of practice by articulating Lived Values that operationalize the University’s mission and vision and identifying shared passions and pursuits through our Adaptive Strategy. Unlike traditional notions of community, the community of practice is regenerative and can create structures to realize our potential when traditional structures or inadequate structures exist. Ideally, one benefit of the community of practice will be removing the unfair burden of racial justice work on Black community members by promulgating institutional structures that redefine the center. The President’s Commission on JEDI is one example of this work that I describe below.
Adaptive Strategy ARCADIA2025: Strategic Initiatives
Arcadia University is transforming the higher education landscape through a community-engaged Adaptive Strategy, ARCADIA2025. The Adaptive Strategy initiatives are being examined through a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) lens with the assistance of the President’s Commission on JEDI, to ensure each aligns with the University’s Vision and Lived Values. Through the Adaptive Strategy and JEDI, we will continue to take bold action in the following areas, among other justice priorities: Empowering Students Through Transformational Teaching, Learning, Mentoring, and Research; Student Success and Engagement; Campus, Culture, and Community; and Cultivating Inclusive Learning Environments: Equity, Civility, and Safety.
Details about the specific initiatives to address justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion are available in the final draft of the Adaptive Strategy, ARCADIA2025. After further consultation with stakeholders, we will offer more details on new initiatives and updates on current priorities. We have a unique opportunity during this crisis to galvanize our community and coordinate our efforts to help us realize our vision.
Local, National, and Global Efforts: Combating Systemic Violence and Racism Against the Black Community
The Office of Social Impact and Innovation (SI2) was launched in 2019 to support change agents who seek positive transformation locally and around the world. SI2 will work closely with the Office of Institutional Diversity, select academic units, and other key stakeholders to advance our work in the following areas:
Combating white supremacy and police brutality
Combating local, national, and global violence perpetrated against the Black community
Supporting advocacy work to end systemic racism and violence, including, but not limited to, organizing, protest/dissent, electoral engagement, and legislative and policy changes.
Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Commission
In September 2019, the President’s Commission on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) was established to conduct a comprehensive review of Arcadia’s policies, practices, and campus climate to ensure each aligns with the University’s Vision and Lived Values. Entering FY2021, the Commission’s work is focused on substantively and concretely contributing toward helping achieve a future Arcadia that is just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive, a place that will reflect the world in which we want to live.
Radical Change Is Necessary
The initiatives above are only the beginning of Arcadia’s path toward radical change and reimagining the University. In the days and weeks ahead, we will provide regular updates on our progress. I will ask our community leaders to help us coordinate campus engagement to develop new strategies and strengthen existing ones. We look forward to working with our Black Alumni Association, POWER, and other organizations to realize our full potential as an institution dedicated to justice.
As I said on Friday, we will find freedom and liberation through love, but only if each of us, according to our abilities, strengths, and contexts, speaks up and is courageous in times of need. Several of you stressed to me in moving and passionate messages of your own how you have a similar burning desire to eradicate the scourge of racism that continues to taint our nation. Desmond Daniels, an educator and student from the School of Education, sent me his poem The Black Male Experience, in which he questions: “Will TODAY be the LAST day of my Earthly experience?” / “Will TODAY be the LAST day I will feel the warmth and love of all the communities I am a part of?” / “Will TODAY be the LAST day that I say ‘I love you mom’ when I walk out the door?”
Sharing expressions of fear, disgust, love, and hope with each other is yet another example of how Arcadia finds strength through community. Now more than ever before, we need your courageous leadership to shine a light on the serious challenges facing the Black community and take effective action to ensure that Black Lives Matter.
Ajay Nair, Ph.D