KU leaders issue statement condemning racism, announce commitment to address inequities in community

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo

University of Kansas students visit and pass between classes outside of Wescoe Hall and across Jayhawk Boulevard from Strong Hall on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015.

The top leaders at the University of Kansas on Tuesday issued a wide-ranging message to the university community condemning racism, police brutality and societal inequities that nationwide protests have sought to highlight in recent days.

Chancellor Douglas Girod and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said the past week had provided them, along with other KU leaders, a chance to reflect on “innumerable, immoral acts of racism to Black members of our communities.”

As such, the leaders announced that KU would begin partnerships between its campus police department, the Lawrence Police Department and city officials to ensure that area police officers are comprehensively trained to avoid the kind of acts that led to the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck while arresting him for allegedly paying with a counterfeit $20 bill at a Minneapolis supermarket.

The statement came after Girod and Bichelmeyer faced criticism for a statement ahead of Sunday’s protest in Lawrence, which said only “we respect and support your right to have your voices heard.”

“The protests across the country, in the region, and in our cities over the past week and in Lawrence Sunday night are powerful statements of the depth of pain and anger that so many of our students, colleagues and friends are feeling,” Tuesday’s message said. “We have done a lot of listening over the past several days, and we recognize the disappointment that our earlier messages created.”

Girod and Bichelmeyer also announced that KU would create a university-level advisory council for equity and inclusion and was committed to regular and continued outreach on the council’s progress. That said, the leaders acknowledged that the community was not immune to racist and inequitable acts.

“We know that acts of racism and discrimination, in their many forms, happen in Lawrence and at KU, and on a regular basis,” they said. “We are not free of the causes of this period of protest and unrest.”

Apart from the protests that have affected nearly every corner of the United States in recent days, Girod and Bichelmeyer also addressed how disproportionately black and native communities in Kansas and around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic, they said, had again illustrated a “fatal reminder of the systemic disparities in health outcomes, availability of financial support, and educational resources for so many of our most vulnerable community members.”

“We stand with you and for you,” Girod and Bichelmeyer wrote. “It’s long past time for racism and discrimination to end. If we are to be on the side of social justice, we — meaning, we as leaders, KU as an institution, and each of us as community members — simply must do the work.”

The full statement can be read on the KU chancellor’s website.

“There is much to be done,” the statement concludes. “It will take all of us, with a common understanding of the pain and the challenges, to deliver on the promise of equality, liberty and justice for all.”

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