I know we are all heartbroken by the senseless killing of George Floyd and are angered by continued examples of police brutality steeped in institutionalized racism. Mr. Floyd was the latest name in a list of police killings of unarmed Black people that includes David McAtee, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Tony McDade and Eric Garner.

At Tuesday’s peaceful protest on the square, I appreciated that our local police were not in tactical or riot gear but were there to participate. I was heartened to see that sense of community and trust and was glad to stand with other members of the university community in attendance at the event. 

I’ve been considering how I should use my privilege and power at the Libraries to amplify Black voices. That’s been different for me – as dean, I am often too comfortable with being the loudest or last voice in the room. I do have one thing in common with the Chancellor: as white men with significant unearned privilege, we can’t speak for Black voices or share any experience of racist discrimination. I can only imagine the trauma of our Black colleagues throughout the Libraries and university. But like him, I can listen. And I can use that privilege when it will help.  

So I’ve been listening to others. Others at this university like dean Deacue Fields of Bumpers College. As an African American man with three sons, senseless police killings hit Dean Fields much more closely than they do me. His perspective and experiences are worth reading: https://twitter.com/bumperscollege/status/1267876421659172864 

I’ve also been listening to Black library leaders around the country and attempting to learn from their perspectives. Elaine Westbrooks at UNC and Trevor Dawes at the University of Delaware have both made powerful statements and are strong advocates for continuing the difficult conversation around race and for making systemic change in their organizations. 

Our country’s racist past doesn’t end with the Black experience, of course. We are acutely aware of the genocidal acts conducted upon Native peoples in this country, including in this region, less than 200 years ago. These are voices in our state and region that have been eclipsed by the white majority, and it’s important that our Libraries and our university recognize our role in perpetuating their silence. 

Many of us desire to use this opportunity to become better at discussions surrounding race and act accordingly. To that end, I’m announcing that the Libraries will reconstitute the current Diversity committee as a committee on Diversity and Inclusion by the end of the month. The charge will be built on previous work, but I will also ask this group to engage with anti-racist programming, to create partnerships across campus with similar organizations and offices, and to advocate for ways our spaces, programming, collections, and services can proactively include voices that have too often been ignored.  

The work of the Diversity and Inclusion committee will be the beginning, not the end of this journey for the Libraries. There’s much work to do for each of us.  

Please review the work that our Librarian-in-Residence, Marianne Williamson, and others have done in creating resources to spur understanding, conversations, and actions. https://uark.libguides.com/diversity/uark-resources 

Be well, be safe.