NYU Silver Statement on Eric Garner and Michael Brown and Systematic, Structural Injustice in American Society

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Dear NYU Silver Community:

Our school community, like communities across the United States, has been deeply touched in response to the Staten Island and Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury decisions announced over the past week. The tragedy of these situations is profound. An unarmed African American youth and man were killed by police. This is a pattern that has happened time and again in the United States. Many of us are angry, frustrated, and disappointed in the grand juries’ decisions. The outrage that the protesters have expressed is in direct response to long-standing institutional racism and inequalities in education, employment, housing, incarceration, and health care in American society. As examples, more than 38 percent of African American and 35 percent of Hispanic children live in poverty, and African American teenagers are 21 times more likely than white teens to be killed by police.

At the Silver School of Social Work, we believe in and advocate for social justice. That includes an equitable distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges for all in society. For too many people of color and others in marginalized groups, social justice is and historically has been elusive.

In these moments, we believe it is important to join with others in our community to express our concerns and our ideas, to make sense of the complex and varying responses, and to learn from these events. The Silver School has sponsored forums for discussion and insight about these events. Students, faculty, and staff have joined the larger New York community in demonstrations protesting the injustice that these events reveal. Instructors have made time to discuss the events and our responses in class. The conversations have at times been difficult, both in the forums and sometimes in smaller conversations that have followed them. As NYU President John Sexton has stated:

That is as it should be at a university. Some of that dialogue will be fervent, some challenging, some uncomfortable; however, we should commit ourselves to undertaking that discourse with respect and in accordance with our highest traditions, viewing even the toughest exchange as an opportunity to listen and to learn from one another. Let us conduct ourselves in a way that might afford the Brown and Garner families some solace and some hope that their terrible losses may lead to a better, more inclusive ideal of justice and peace. (The Quest for Justice, Letter to the NYU Community, Dec. 4, 2014)

These events have touched us deeply, empowering many, and raising concerns for others. Concerns include our openness to different points of view, and painful questions of social justice within our own community. Many of us are asking ourselves, what lasting good can we take away from these discussions? And, how can we make a true difference that will bring social justice to our society and to the world? As we reflect on our own conversations over the past weeks, here are some of our thoughts about how we can make a lasting difference in increasing social justice in our world.

  1. Be an agent for change. Advocate for stronger community police partnerships designed to build trust, accountability, and mutual respect. Take the time to learn about elected candidates’ positions on social justice issues and vote for the most progressive candidates. Work with and on behalf of marginalized communities.
  2. The dialog is very important. Keep talking and listening to each other. This requires respect for different points of view and dedication to helping ourselves and others to develop deeper insight about social justice in our school, University, city, country, and the world.
  3. The environmental adage, “think globally; act locally,” has a lot of meaning for social justice concerns. As in politics, we can have the most immediate impact in our local community. This means advocating for progressive local change and dedicating ourselves to hold a high level of respect and social justice in our everyday interactions with students, faculty, and professional colleagues. Set high standards for how you treat others in your world. Put your ideals into action. Listen and reflect when others give you feedback that you are falling short of your standards.
  4. Because we are students and educators, it is our responsibility to keep examining and learning. Keep reading and talking and learning more. To support a personal commitment to continual learning and self-examination, we have started a list of some of the best articles that we have read since the grand juries’ decisions.

Please add your voice to our school’s statement, by adding your comments below and by sharing the most insightful and useful materials that you have read on this current crisis.

Sincerely,

Lynn Videka, Dean
Tazuko Shibusawa, Associate Dean and Director of the MSW Program
Robert Hawkins, Assistant Dean and Director of the BS Program
Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, Director of the PhD Program
Courtney O’Mealley, Assistant Dean and Director of Social Justice & Diversity Initiatives

Resource List for Learning More

Alexander, Michelle, “Telling my Son about Ferguson,” New York Times, November 26, 2014.

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