From the Office of the President

In my June 3rd letter to the community, I asked you “to join with Monks everywhere to make our communities safer places for all who continue to believe in the goodness and promise of people committed to integrity, motivated by respect, fueled by compassion, strengthened by faith, and striving for excellence and justice.”

And while we each can work to strengthen the many communities of which we are members, we also have a collective obligation to the community that is Saint Joseph’s College.

I have spent the past month in conversation with many members of this community. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni have shared with me how important it is that the College live up to its mission and values in this regard. I am grateful to them for taking the time to articulate their concerns and share their ideas to me.

These conversations will continue. But it is now time that we, as a community, undertake serious and meaningful action to begin undoing structural racism and its presence within – and impact on – our community. The events of the last month have confronted us with the following questions: How seriously do we take our core value of justice, which challenges us to “seek to address instances of injustice both within and outside our College community from a stance of informed advocacy?” Are we willing to do what is necessary and embrace the discomfort that may result from enacting anti-racist practices, to ensure that we “hold ourselves accountable to each other?”

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers has resulted not only in widespread protests in urban and rural communities across the country; it has laid bare with absolute clarity to anyone previously unwilling or unable to acknowledge it the unabated impact of structural racism on American culture. For example, not long before the killing of Mr. Floyd, the news media had already reported the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on communities of color with regard to hospitalization rates, death rates, and unemployment. For too long, too many of us have lived under the illusion that racism is something that happens to individuals somewhere else, but not here. We would like to believe that, because we would not personally treat people “that way,” we have been exempt from contributing to systems that enshrine racist practices, but we can no longer dwell within a house built upon a foundation of such blissful ignorance.

People in this community have and continue to experience racism and discrimination, both intentional and unintentional. In fact, I know from conversations with some of our alumni of color how Saint Joseph’s failed them during their time here. And, in all frankness, the College has not responded in a timely manner, including now, to the numerous occasions of police brutality against the African American community. Our own Catholic Mercy tradition has long taught that injustice manifests itself in social structures as well as in personal behaviors. In fact, these structures are the result of our collective behaviors; the two are intertwined. The tragedies of the past several months afford us the opportunity for an honest accounting of our community, its practices, and each of our responsibilities for building a community committed to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. How else can we live out our core value of community with an integrity that reflects our commitment to the Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy?

And while this work will not be accomplished overnight, we must begin.

To that end, I am announcing the following initiatives:

  1. The College’s Leadership Team will join me in participating in an anti-racism leadership development program this summer so that we are more fully prepared for this work;
  2. The College’s processes for recruiting students, faculty, and staff of color will be reviewed and revised to reflect our commitment to building a diverse and inclusive community;
  3. The College will identify additional scholarships and financial assistance to support students from under-represented communities;
  4. The College will retain the services of an outside group to conduct an audit of our practices and culture relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion;
  5. The College will provide anti-racism workshops to community members during the coming academic year;
  6. The College will develop additional financial resources to support a more diverse student, staff, and faculty community including the establishment of an Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion with a full-time director who will report to the president; and
  7. Finally, I am asking that the agenda for this year’s annual Faculty Day, which occurs just before the start of classes in the fall, include the topic of anti-racism and the curriculum. The curriculum is the central expression of the College’s identity and should reflect our commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Our strategic plan articulates the goal that “Saint Joseph’s College will be a diverse, multi-generational learning Community.”  To advance this goal, I convened  a cross-section of faculty and staff who have been meeting as a task force to formulate a statement articulating the College’s commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI). You can read that statement here.

The members of the JEDI Work Group currently are: Kimberly Post, Caitlin Eldridge, Rob Sanicola, Fr. Gabriel Muteru, Tanya Iverson, Yolanda Brooks, Stephanie Briggs, Kareem Myrick, Victoria Robbins, Marina Alonso de Gallo, and Chris Fuller. I will be seeking a member of our Board of Trustees to join them. They will continue to advise our work forward as a community as well as plan opportunities for further training toward our goal of being more inclusive and welcoming to all who call Saint Joseph’s home.

The point of these necessary conversations is not to make ourselves feel better about what we have done or to arrive at quick “solutions.” These are occasions to practice radical hospitality, to be open to listening to the experiences of others from a place of vulnerability. If we are committed to the goal of growing sustainable communities, we need to begin from a place of openness and humility. Then we need to act.

As we celebrate this July 4th, let us mark a turning point in our efforts to live up to America’s best ideals. Thank you for joining the conversation, and for your dedication to fulfilling our Mercy values through a long overdue commitment to anti-racism at Saint Joseph’s College.

James S. Dlugos, Ph.D.
President
Saint Joseph’s College