Dear USM Community,
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers marched to Galveston, Texas, where they told the Black people enslaved by White masters that the Civil War was over. It had taken more than two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, for the Black people of Galveston to see a glimmer of America’s promised freedom.
In the wake of that history, June 19 has grown to mark an Independence Day for many Black people. Known as Juneteenth, today is celebrated widely among Black communities. And this year, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others at the hands of law enforcement, it is especially important to honor the significance of Juneteenth by reflecting on our history and envisioning where we go from here.
This year, Juneteenth comes at a difficult time for our nation, and also a difficult time for many of our students, especially our Black students and Students of Color. USM, a historically White institution, strives to be the “University of Everyone,” and we will be forever striving to live up to that promise. We realize that though 47 states, including Maine, recognize Juneteenth, 2020 is the first year we are sending out a Juneteenth message. We acknowledge our national failure to give this day its full due. USM can do better, and USM will do better going forward.
We recognize that we are just embarking on this journey, and that we have much learning to do. Juneteenth is an opportunity for us to reflect, build awareness, and also educate ourselves. These steps are critical if we are to build the inclusive, equitable community we aspire to foster at USM. As we undertake this work, we invite you to join us. Here are a few ways you can celebrate Juneteenth with us:
Support local events:
1. Attend “Racial Injustice: Reimagining Policing and Public Safety.” This is the first in a series of conversations on racial injustice hosted by the University of Maine School of Law. This public forum will be held from noon to 1 p.m. today. To learn more about this important event and to register, please visit the Conversations on Racial Injustice website.
2. Participate in the Indigo Arts Alliance’s Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival. This virtual book festival celebrates Black authors and illustrators of children’s books featuring Black characters. The website also features art activities, speakers and performances.
3. Attend State Theater’s Juneteenth! concert, featuring local Black musicians and raising money for local Black organizations.
4. Attend The Abyssinian Meeting House’s annual Juneteenth celebration, June 20th, from noon to 3 p.m. in a virtual format.
5. Learn about and engage with the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations’ work to address systemic racism in Maine.
Support regional and national events:
6. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (a Smithsonian Institution museum) is offering two days of free online events.
7. The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire is offering programming on June 19 and 20.
As we recognize the significance of Juneteenth, and as we engage our USM community in learning and celebration, we acknowledge our responsibility — both as individuals, and as an institution of Higher Education — to confront the deeply ingrained racist policies that continue to deny BIPOC access to education, employment and healthcare. Much as the Black people of Galveston were denied freedom prior to June 19, 1865, today Black Americans are still denied the rights of full citizenship. It is all of our responsibility to face not only that history, but also this present reality. USM will no longer let Juneteenth pass uncelebrated. Please join us in honoring this great day here in 2020, and moving forward.
With thanks to the following individuals for providing thoughtful counsel and help on our first Juneteenth message:
Dr. Rebecca Nisetich, Assistant Professor, Director of the Honors Program, and co-chair of USM’s Intercultural and Diversity Advisory Council (IDAC)
Sarah Lentz, Muskie M.P.P.M. graduate 2020, Co-Chair of IDAC
Erik Eisele, B.A.’07, M.P.P.M.’20
Dear USM Community,
Last week our nation received an abhorrent reminder that racism is far more than a societal ill, soon to be cured. Racism lies deeply embedded in every corner of the American landscape. And it is often lethal.
Violent injustice has permeated our history. Now, however, the portal of technology brings millions of Americans to the recorded killing of George Floyd being suffocated in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers who ignored his desperate pleas for mercy. He joins a four-hundred-year column of black victims of white brutality, most recently Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade, among many.
This incident occurs against the backdrop of COVID-19, which has put on display how racism operates within the fiber of America. The virus disproportionately impacts communities of color as a direct result of carefully-crafted racial policies in housing, healthcare and employment.
As a university, USM stands against these injustices. We make a collective and individual call for accountability and justice. Today, we bear witness to the precarity of black lives, both at the hands of individuals, and at the hands of our systems and policies. Today, we are angry, disgusted and saddened. Today, we stand in solidarity with all those calling for an end to this legacy of racial violence. We remember that our ultimate calling is love.
But dismantling this legacy requires more than somber reflection. It requires action. So USM will take two immediate actions:
- USM will require all university police personnel, as well as all leadership staff (assistant directors and above) in Student Affairs, to complete the Racial Equity Institute program. REI will give our officers and staff tasked with overseeing disciplinary concerns a deeper understanding of the race-based structures of our history. To the credit of the leadership in both areas, full endorsement to this expectation came swiftly and supportively.
- USM will place philanthropic resources for Promise Scholars and Access to Education as one of our top priorities for fundraising in the campaign ahead. These scholarships highlight the potential for civic leadership in our student body and help erode the financial inequities that create barriers to higher education.
USM will also continue its Common Read Discussion Groups of Ibram Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist, and we call on every member of the USM Community to both read Kendi’s book and take part in a discussion group. Sign-up to join a group.
The USM leadership team has been its own How to be an Anti-Racist discussion group for months. We have finished the book and moved on to other materials, deepening our understanding of how oppression operates and perpetuates itself. We ask every department at USM to do the same.
Additionally, this summer 20 faculty and staff members will participate in USM’s first-ever Antiracist Institute. And I am pleased to announce that Dr. Kendi has rescheduled his postponed 2020 Commencement address and public lecture for May 2021.
As Kendi states: “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist’.”
USM stands with those committed to dismantling racial inequities. Racism not only limits — it also kills. To stand silent in this moment is to stand with racism. Please stand as an anti-racist with USM.
Dr. Glenn Cummings
"USM president: In order to grow, university must address issues of equity, justice"
By Glenn Cummings Special to the Press Herald
Four years ago, when I began my tenure as president of the University of Southern Maine, I set nine critical goals for the university. They were goals that focused on academic excellence, student support, enrollment, retention and financial sustainability.
I am proud to say that we have made tremendous progress on these goals, and today USM is a university that is strong, growing and on the move. However, as the university has grown – and as I have grown – I have come to realize that we need to add a 10th critical goal: a goal that focuses squarely on equity and justice.
In every person’s life, we can anticipate opportunities – some of them unexpected – that lead us to go deeper in our relationships with others, forcing us to change our life circumstances, or to handle our personal challenges in new and more productive ways. Sometimes growth comes on a platter of kind and generous support, even serendipity. Other times, it derives from the humility of failure and exposure of our own shortcomings. In most cases, however, the context for growth comes with a mixture of both.
The same holds true for any institution. Our university is no exception. In the past few years, USM has made meaningful strides in the areas of diversity and inclusion: We installed new prayer and meditation rooms to accommodate our religious diversity; we instituted a series of implicit bias and diversity trainings for faculty and staff; we established new donor-funded scholarships that supported asylum seekers and students from underrepresented populations; last fall, the racial and ethnic diversity of our newly appointed and rehired full-time faculty reflected the same percentage as our student body – a first for us; and a second year of convocation events on the issues of race and participatory democracy dotted our calendars, bringing award-winning speakers to our campuses. These are just some examples of our efforts.
But we fall short. This year, disciplinary actions, hiring policies and resource allocation all exposed the shortcomings in our perspective and actions.
USM must begin a new journey that goes beyond inclusion and diversity to address issues of equity and justice. I say this, because the diversity and inclusion framework fails to go deeply enough. Some scholars have described these initiatives as the language of appeasement rather than transformation.
To uphold instead the principles of equity and justice demands a commitment of higher education to ask more profound questions about access, safety, opportunity, visibility and power. And it requires us to act upon the answers.
Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, a professor of educational leadership at Bowling Green University, helps us see the difference between ‘diversity and inclusion” and “equity and social justice” with a set of fundamental questions:
• “Diversity asks, ‘Who’s in the room?’ Equity responds, ‘Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?’ ”
• “Diversity asks, ‘How many more of (pick any minoritized identity) do we have this year than last?’ Equity responds, ‘What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?’ ”
• “Inclusion asks, ‘Have everyone’s ideas been heard?’ Justice responds, ‘Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?’ ”
To go deeper begins, always, as an inside job. USM’s journey will not be quick or easy or comfortable. For me personally, it will challenge my own long-held, comfortable and sometimes self-righteous views, pushing me to humbly acknowledge that I should speak less and listen more; defend less and act more; avoid less and love more.
I use myself as an example because, as a symbolic representative of the institution, such a perspective must start with me. In a larger sense, however, we are all trusted servants of our public institutions and our common welfare, and no progress can occur except together. I hope that you will welcome the journey ahead and join us in our efforts.
In the hours following the terrorist, hate-filled mass shooting of people of Islamic faith in New Zealand, I want to reach out to our campus community, and most especially our Muslim students, to let you know it is my strongest desire and highest priority to make sure everyone here feels welcome, appreciated and safe.
Horrific and tragic events like yesterday’s New Zealand massacre are becoming way too familiar, whether it be an attack on Muslims, people of color, people of the Jewish faith or the LGBTQ community. But let us not allow the frequency of such events to numb us; rather, it is my fervent hope that it motivates and emboldens us to stand with one another.
Starting right here at USM, we must continue to strive to be a university that embraces and cherishes our diversity, and ensure that every single person on our campus knows they are a valued member of our community.
Dr. Glenn Cummings