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In solidarity with victims of racial violence

May 15, 2020 

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke community, 

As we enter a weekend of celebration for our newest graduates, it is both with great sadness and a sense of moral imperative that I write to acknowledge the senseless death of Ahmaud Arbery, to denounce the racial inequality and systemic oppression that led to his death, and to share plans for a virtual vigil next week. As the media coverage of this act of racial violence has revealed, Ahmaud Arbery was out for a run in his Brunswick, Georgia neighborhood when he was shot and killed. We learned his name and his story as the deeply distressing video of his death at the hands of two white men emerged. We cannot save Ahmaud, but we must heed the call to do what we can in the struggle against racial injustice and violence.

Ahmaud Arbery’s death, like that of other unarmed Black men and women, the continuing assaults on trans women of color, and the devastating impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable communities continue to confront us with systemic inequities and pernicious racial and gender bias. We are fortunate to live and work in a community committed to social justice, to equity and inclusion, and to challenging racism and bias in all its forms. We are not able to be together in person at this time, but we are no less of a community, and we are no less committed to this work. We will maintain our resolute commitment to expand and deepen diversity, equity and inclusion across the College. This work has always been inspired and enhanced by the voices and advocacy of those within our community: please be vocal, call us in, and keep drawing attention to the opportunities that you see for the College to go further, to do more to combat racial injustice and systemic inequality. You can always write to me, or to Kijua Sanders-McMurtry, to share your thoughts and ideas.

The College’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is home to ongoing DEI education, support and programming – and its work is especially critical in such moments of racial violence, and in the midst of a global pandemic and its consequences. In response to these events, I invite you to gather for  a virtual vigil on May 19. In partnership with the Division of Student Life, the DEI Office has organized We Bear Witness: A Memorial for Victims of Racism and Healing Circle to remember victims of racial violence, provide a moment of reflection, and share resources. The vigil is open to all community members and requires advance registration. I hope you will join me in attending this event as an act of solidarity with the families and communities disproportionately affected by these issues.

My commitment to you is that long after this vigil ends, and until we live in a world free from racial violence and inequality, I will heed the call. I will continue to do my own work; I will keep challenging my own internal biases, as well as systemic racism and its consequences; and I will  seek and take opportunities to eradicate systems of inequality. Our unrelenting commitment to justice – and to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community – can only lead to a better Mount Holyoke and a better and safer world. 

Sincerely,

Sonya Stephens
President


More instances of racial violence and inequality continue to emerge as we prepare for Tuesday's vigil. We Bear Witness: A Memorial for Victims of Racism and Healing Circle for the MHC Community is an ongoing effort to memorialize all individuals who have lost their lives to systemic racism and support the healing of affected communities.