The following message was sent to all students, faculty and staff via email on March 15.
Dear Members of the Campus Community:
One year after the first cases of COVID-19 emerged on our campus we meet here to stand in remembrance for the losses of the last year. At the same time as the country and our campus wrestled with the development of the first global health pandemic since 1918, the country and SUNY New Paltz also came to a moment of reckoning with our racialized history. As the pandemic caused confusion and fear across the globe, in our country and on campus, it began to draw a sad and stark light on the impact of structural racism within health care, housing, education and food systems. We watched as structural racism and sustained practices of racism caused disproportionate deaths, losses of income, loss of housing, loss of education and food insecurity in communities of color and indigenous populations.
If this were not already a terrible precipice for our country a few weeks after the start of the pandemic, we watched as Black men and women lost their lives to the legacy of racism. They became the latest victims of our legacy of racism and our normalized acceptance of a hierarchy of human value. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd became new names on a list that stems hundreds of years of violence on Black and brown bodies. In the days and months that followed, we mourned and marched and called on leaders as well as each other to account: What are we going to DO about this? We cannot wait to study, debate or persuade racism away. Locally, we asked ourselves and our institution was asked: what will we act upon to create change here for SUNY New Paltz? What is our responsibility to openly name systemic racism? What is our responsibility to commit to actively dismantling racism? How do we create accountability for sustained change?
We have walked a year together and we have walked in loss, and anger, as well as grief and fear. We have also walked the year with grit, resilience, innovation, courage, compassion, and empathy. Not every step was welcomed, comfortable or seamless. Not every step was agreed upon and not every step had an answer or fix but every step was a step. They were steps that ensured we were not abandoning our mission or who we serve. They were steps that made us take stock of what we value in our lives. They were steps to innovate and learn new ways of teaching, supporting, and connecting. There were steps that kept our families and neighbors safer. There were steps that hopefully made people think, reflect and (hopefully) make room for another’s experience and truth. They were steps that critically shook the status quo and there were also steps that made space for healing and better understanding.
Even now, as we are tired of walking this year and still face many more uncertain steps, we keep walking forward. Every step was simultaneously a community step and an individual step. We are not done learning from this walk (at least I hope I am never done walking or learning) but our individual steps bring us to places and people that can make us look at ourselves and our responsibilities to each other. Our collective steps carry us closer to the places where we can find common ground and purpose and where we make room for the different paths to change. I know I did not walk this year alone and I was sustained by many in this community. My hope: That we remain committed to continuing the individual and collective steps toward meaningful change. That we recognize that when we walk together, we can bring more people along, amplify our voices and sustain each other. That we appreciate that each step we take carries us closer to realizing the SUNY New Paltz we aspire to be.
Tanhena Pacheco Dunn
Chief Diversity Officer
and Associate Vice President for Human Resources, Diversity & Inclusion