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A Message From Dean William Gaudelli

Monday, June 1, 2020 - 7:30am

Colleagues, 

I wanted to reach out to share my reflections--solely my own--regarding the outrageous police attack in Minneapolis last week and the subsequent acts of protest that have ensued. I know that words are insufficient in a time of social unrest and yet as a community of scholars, words are what we have. I know that the College leadership will prepare a response as well but I wanted you to hear about this directly from me as well and with a sense of urgency that a joint letter in summer does not allow. 

The pain and anguish that many of you are experiencing is real and I feel it too. I asked Liz to turn off the news Sunday evening as it was just too much to bear witness--watching squad cars run over protesters, truckers plowing into crowds and all of the gruesome, nauseating details that have been with us for a week. 

And yet we also must recognize that the burden is not equally shared--that African Americans and people of color, including those in our College and on our campus, share most of this burden. I have never had to think twice about where I happened to be walking or jogging, what stores I visit and the company that I keep, as a white male. White privilege is real and we must name it and insist that it end. 

Years ago my son and I were at a hardware store when the power went out and shoppers had to be checked when leaving to be sure we had not taken any items. The store and our community is majority black and so the guard waved us through without checking, though I insisted that we show him our bag. Alex asked what had happened and I explained that we witnessed white-skin privilege and that we are obligated to call it out when it happens. But that lesson for Alex is altogether different from what a black parent must teach their child about living in the world in the hopes for their survival. I was very moved listening to Atlanta's Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. "Above everything else, I am a mother. I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old. And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt...I did what a mother would do. I called my son and I said, 'Where are you? I cannot protect you." 

George Floyd's brutal murder was completely unwarranted and yet we all know that this is a signal event in a long litany of racist abuses at the hands of law enforcement. The intolerability of this act is echoed in the protesters chants of "no justice, no peace" and Floyd's death is now a surrogate for myriad atrocities. The situation truly makes me feel sick. 

I would like to think that reform efforts could fix this problem but I know that this is wishful thinking, failing to account for the systemic racism that permeates the United States and brutally on display with numbing regularity. We see it in our field as well, as education is yet another ground-zero for the perpetration of the long legacy of racism, bequeathed and saddled to each new generation through egregiously unequal schools, all too often a proxy for the racially segregated society that we live within. 

As I was watching the rebellion unfold on social media and TV, I was reminded of Dr. King's famous speech of dreams, about the historical debt yet unpaid. Nearly six decades on we have never taken his invocation seriously, about what reparations are necessary and appropriate in light of this debt. Perhaps this latest unrest will give us pause again to grapple with what must be done so that all people can enjoy the blessings of liberty untrammeled by race, gender, class or any other aspects of identity. Such a country would truly be great again. 

Schools must be part of this answer so we can raise a generation of young people who share equally in the abundance of life and appreciate the humanity of all people. I know amidst the smouldering rubble of communities in horrific trauma this sounds idyllic, but I do believe it is possible.  

I remain optimistic that we can overcome this and I look forward to having a dialogue with you soon about what that will mean for the work of the College as we move forward. 

In peace and solidarity,

Bill 

William Gaudelli, Ed.D.
Dean and Professor
College of Education 
Lehigh University

Research Focus: 
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Organizations and Organizational Change
Field of Expertise: 
Culture, Identity/Marginalization and Resilience
Higher Education