To the UC Davis Community:
Our Community Moment of Silence three days ago was just the beginning. Renetta Garrison Tull asked us to take a stand against racism. Kayton Carter implored us to go “beyond the moment.” I encouraged us to work together to effect change. And we are.
Renetta Garrison Tull is our vice chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which organized Tuesday afternoon’s moment of silence for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, California’s own Stephon Clark, Florida’s Tony McDade and many others. Kayton Carter is the executive director of Student Affairs Retention Initiatives and the director of the Center for African Diaspora Student Success.
We livestreamed the program (see the video recording below) and kept it small, by necessity, with just three people speaking from Mrak Hall: Vice Chancellor Tull, Director Carter and me. As Vice Chancellor Tull noted: “We are not hiding the fact that we’re African Americans standing here, coming in during a pandemic — the people around us all have masks — but we needed to say something.”
We are not the only ones speaking out about the killing of black men and women, including George Floyd, who died May 25 while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Over the last two weeks, we have seen statements of outrage from all corners of the university, including heartfelt messages from deans, coaches and the police chief.
This is not new
Vice Chancellor Tull recounted a conversation with her mother and brother and other family members over Zoom last Friday. “We talked about the times when we’ve been stopped by police for no reason,” she said. “I remember this happening as a child, sitting in the car with my father, so this is not new.”
Director Carter offered a list of incidents dating back almost 100 years to the Black Wall Street Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a black shoemaker was accused of assaulting a woman, and it led to the deaths of some 300 people and the destruction of an entire black community. (A state commission in 2001 concluded the shoemaker had most likely tripped and accidentally stepped on the woman’s foot.)
Director Carter also noted the deaths of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo, while Vice Chancellor Tull added the names of Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin. “Too many to name,” she said. “We are in the midst of a pandemic, where more than 100,000 people have died of COVID-19, and even in the midst of that, we must take some time to acknowledge the reality of racism and unjust deaths of black lives, which is centuries old.”
Inclusion doesn't come easy
I read parts of the statement I put out last week, with some additions. “I work in the ivory tower of academia, but I live in the real world. I’m constantly reminded of that fact: driving while black, shopping while black, cooking out while black, exercising while black. It is exhausting. And I’m tired.
“George Floyd could have been any African American man, including me. At a traffic stop, no one knows I am a chancellor. No one knows I have a Ph.D.
“I am a lifelong educator, a black man whose parents endured segregation personally. I’ve spent much of my career working to increase diversity on college campuses and in the workforce. I think a lot about how America has not made as much progress as we often claim. Recent events have only reaffirmed the need to build an inclusive society that recognizes and respects people of all backgrounds and experiences.
“But inclusion — like social justice — doesn’t come easily. It requires collective effort. It requires each one of us working to make a difference, whether that’s through getting involved in your community, peaceful protesting or doing what you can to change procedures that reflect bias. And don’t forget to vote.”
Challenging our community
As Director Carter said, we must go “beyond the moment.” He challenged the UC Davis community: “In the spaces where there are no African diaspora people, if you experience and witness racism, take a stand.”
Vice Chancellor Tull agreed: “This doesn’t stop here. Just because we had this moment this afternoon and we’ve taken time to affirm black lives, to address and call out injustice, we have to keep going and we have to make sure that we do more.”
The School of Law wasted no time — holding a forum the day after the Community Moment of Silence, drawing almost 170 people for an online discussion of next steps. Among them, as announced by Dean Kevin Johnson: a King Hall speakers series on racial justice. “This is an issue we should address day in and day out, not just [when something happens],” he said.
In closing Tuesday’s program, Vice Chancellor Tull said: “It may take us to stand up, to be an upstander, to actually intervene, and we’ll have workshops for that. In the meanwhile, we also know that we have to take time to heal. And, so, we thank you, and again we ask you to remember, to think, to read, to listen, reflect, learn, plan and act, recognizing that black lives do indeed matter and that we are all going to go forward together.”
See Resources for Racial Trauma, compiled by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This page will be updated with programs and other events, as well as new resources and other information.
Flexibilities for spring finals
On top of the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing national protests have only added to students’ stress and anxiety as the quarter comes to an end. In response, the Academic Senate this week authorized faculty to offer students the alternative of receiving spring quarter grades based on work completed by the last day of instruction (June 4), provided that instructors also administer their scheduled final exams to the students who want the tests. Many students rely on finals to improve their course grades.
As we informed students in a letter yesterday, it is the instructor’s decision whether they want to make their final optional. If the instructor determines that a final is required, we encouraged them to consider accommodations on a case-by-case basis and let students know how to make such requests, because some students may not feel empowered to initiate these conversations. We also asked faculty to consider approving requests for incompletes, giving students additional time to complete coursework or to achieve research or project milestones.
This change in final exam policy expanded the senate’s earlier actions to provide flexibilities for students around choosing the grading options Passed/Not Passed (for undergraduates) and Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (for graduate students). The senate also extended the deadline for students to select the course grading mode to the last day of instruction. Although this deadline has now passed, students can later petition the Grade Changes Committee to modify their grading mode for a course retroactively (for example, change a passing letter grade to a “P” after the term is over). Although we cannot guarantee that the committee will approve all petitions, we fully anticipate that they will take the present circumstances into account when evaluating future requests.
Academic Senate and university leaders this week also communicated with faculty about their role in serving students as part of a community: “We must recognize that while we have pledged to be their teachers, we, as professors, cannot forget that we are also together in journey of lifelong learning that calls for embracing these profound moments of disruption and discomfort as opportunities for individual and collective growth.”
Ready, set, go ... slow
Get ready for Tuesday’s launch of “Campus Ready,” the Finance, Operations and Administration website to help ensure UC Davis is “campus ready” for you as we gradually resume administrative and office work in step with the gradual return of research and students over the coming months.
We’ve already posted our guidelines for this process. They include a requirement for every work site (e.g., building, department, program, school) to establish a written COVID-19 prevention plan addressing such key prevention practices as staying home if you are sick and encouraging others to do the same, physical (social) distancing, use of face coverings (Yolo County’s face-covering order is still in effect), frequent practicing of hand hygiene (i.e., hand-washing, sanitizer use); regular cleaning and disinfection of workspace and personal items; and minimizing the use of shared or communal property or equipment.
The website coming next week will provide a toolbox (including templates) to help create and implement the work site plans. The site is intended to serve as a dynamic guide for what you can expect as campus operations evolve, and what will be expected of you.
Thursday and Friday Thoughts
In my “Thursday Thoughts” video, I’ve got a message for students about their finals next week, and some advice for our graduates.
Today, in my Friday Thoughts, let me congratulate the Class of 2020. To our baccalaureate degree recipients, I will be addressing you in your remote ceremony a week from today. To our advanced-degree recipients, most of you I have already addressed in remote celebrations that began in mid-May, and we have two more to go: for the School of Education and the Graduate School of Management.
I know all of you expected to be walking across the commencement stage, and I want you to know how desperately we wanted to make that happen. But nothing can take away your achievement and the extra credit you all deserve for persevering in the face of a pandemic and, more recently, the tragic killing in Minneapolis that has a nation once again outraged over the senseless death of another person of color.
Yet here you are, graduates in STEM and agriculture, the social sciences and the arts and humanities, the law and business administration, and medicine and veterinary medicine — going out into the world at a time when your knowledge and skills and ideas and creativity are needed more than ever.
Our world is under siege by a virus, our nation under siege by racism. We have incredible faith in our newest Aggie graduates to take on these tremendous challenges and help build and innovate a healthier, safer and more equitable future for everyone.
Gary S. May