Message from the President
June 1, 2020
Dear Columbia College Chicago faculty, staff, and students,
I write to you as we witness our country and city awash in violence in outrage over the abject killing of a Black man, George Floyd, by a White Minneapolis police officer. It is another manifestation of the dehumanizing of disenfranchised groups in general, and Black people in particular, by powerful segments of American society. Such abuse in large measure reflects the historical legacy of white supremacy in the United States, as manifested both in individual behaviors and institutional structures and systems. There is no justification for what happened to Mr. Floyd, and I was proud to see protesters of all races march in Chicago and across the United States to denounce the injustice and say, “Enough is enough.”
Today, after so many weeks of enforced isolation and now amidst this widespread unrest, I wish that I had greater wisdom to offer you than I do.
I cannot know how it feels to be Black in America. My only approach to understanding is through empathy as an Asian American who has been “othered” my whole life. I understand that many in our community are experiencing rage and despair; I feel these things too. Right now, hope feels elusive.
Systemic racism is an unavoidable fact in our country. Those of us who care must struggle against it, each in our own authentic way. Until we change the minds and hearts of those who lead (and continue graduating new, enlightened leaders), there will be no justice; we will continue to experience the sickening feeling of being trapped in an endlessly repetitive cycle of witnessing events that are too painful to contemplate. That is the role of education and it is at the core of my commitment as president of Columbia College Chicago. The DEI work at our college is not window dressing. It is a commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution, a place where every voice can be expressed and heard and every identity, narrative and history is honored and valued.
The work is far from done but we have made real progress and will continue to do so because of the dedication and hard work of those who possess the courage and fortitude to keep pushing back against the resistance (which is real.)
I retain my conviction that this moment – not just Mr. Floyd’s killing but also the COVID-19 pandemic and the systemic inequity and neglect of communities of color that it has revealed – affirms one of the college’s core values, that a disciplined, searching, incisive, and passionate creative voice is a compelling tool for calling out injustice and oppression. We must continue to use that voice, as I know many members of our community are already doing, to illuminate the ills that have led our society to these shameful moments, and to confront those who would dehumanize the most vulnerable among us. We must continue to call out racism and hatred of the other wherever and whenever we witness them, and work to right these wrongs, mobilizing all the creative means at our disposal.
Sadly, we are not strangers to the ugly history of police brutality against communities of color. This latest wave of violent response, however, has hit close to home because the Columbia campus fell prey to the rampage thrust upon our city by those who chose unacceptable violence over peaceful yet forceful engagement. Overnight on Saturday, the college bookstore at 624 S. Michigan and the college’s buildings at 33 E. Ida B. Wells, 623 S. Wabash, 916 S. Wabash, and 1104 S. Wabash had some of their windows smashed and their contents looted. Graffiti was sprayed on the north wall of the student center; an attempted break-in in the rear of the building was unsuccessful but left two windows cracked. All of this took place in the context of widespread damage to merchants in particular on the stretch of Wabash between Ida B. Wells and Roosevelt Road.
Thankfully, we are dealing with property damage alone; nobody was physically hurt on campus. Graffiti can be cleaned, walls repainted, and windows replaced, and this repair work will be done. The neighborhood surrounding the campus has regenerated in recent memory and will do so again. I must thank our campus security personnel, who saved our campus from further damage even when they were directly threatened with physical violence. Our facilities team, whose members had already been traveling to campus every day ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, once again answered the call to repair facilities and secure them as fully as possible. I also want to thank the many volunteers in the neighborhood – people with no formal connection to Columbia – who came out on Sunday morning to help clean up some of the damage, and also the workers, whose names we will never know, who will eventually do the work of the graffiti cleaning and the window replacement.
I have often proclaimed my pride in being a member of a community with such an extraordinary capacity for supporting one another through difficult times; these days that sense of pride is particularly strong. Let us lift and hold each other up at this painful moment, opening our hearts most generously to those among us who are suffering the most acutely. And even in the midst of our collective dismay, let us begin imagining better creative solutions to the ills that plague our nation and society.
You have my appreciation, my advocacy, and my support. Be well and stay strong.
President and CEO