Today marks the first anniversary of the brutal murder of George Floyd by a police officer charged with guaranteeing public safety. Over the past year and throughout American history, unarmed Black people have been killed in alarming numbers by police officers and vigilantes. But it took the horrifying video images of Mr. Floyd pleading for his life as Officer Derek Chauvin ground his knee into his neck for nine-and-a-half minutes to spark nationwide and worldwide demands for a long-overdue reckoning — not just to end police brutality against people of color, but also to dismantle the structures of racism that have buttressed health, economic, and educational iniquities and all forms of discrimination and bias across our society.
In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed, as Teachers College lowered its flags to half-mast, hundreds of us came together for a virtual rally against police brutality and systemic racism. We heard Provost Stephanie Rowley, Vice President for Diversity and Community Affairs Janice Robinson, and members of our faculty and staff offer their analyses and candid reflections. While it felt that our College and society had arrived at an inflection point for bending the arc of history toward social justice, we all recognized our individual and shared responsibility to do the long, hard work of advancing social justice.
A commitment to social justice has informed our teaching, research, service and advocacy virtually since our founding. It is also what draws our students to Teachers College. Over the past year, that work has consisted of looking even more critically through a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and anti-Black racism at what and how we teach, how we conduct work and conduct research, and how we behave toward our neighbors and one another.
We can be heartened to the extent that we continue our persistent efforts as individuals and as a community. I have been especially inspired by the passionate determination of our students and recent graduates to dedicate their lives to advancing social justice.
However, while systemic and structural racism is not immutable, only sustained action and lifelong commitment to anti-racism work will eliminate it once and for all.
On this painful anniversary, each of us can help to continue the reckoning for racial justice by following two steps that Dr. Robinson proposed last June. First: Take at least nine-and-a-half minutes — the length of time that Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck — “to reflect on where we are and what actions we are taking with others.” And then: “Take the reasonable and swift actions which critical love dictates to do this work on anti-Black racism, in our programs and in our lives.”
President, Teachers College