Speeches & Commentary

On racial equity and justice

Dear Washington University community,

To say that this has been a difficult and painful week would be an extreme understatement. Like you, I’ve watched with sadness and grief as events have unfolded first in Minneapolis in response to the killing of George Floyd, and then across the country as individuals and communities have taken to the streets to express their anger and frustration at the racial injustice that continues to plague our nation. The ongoing racial violence that we are witnessing against people of color is nothing short of devastating. In recent months, we have seen a rise in anti-Asian and anti-Asian-American violence, largely perpetuated by other Americans. In the last two weeks, we have seen the continuation of violence against Black Americans, both at the hands of officers of the state and private individuals. The events of the past several days reflect only the most recent in a long line of wrongs that have been inflicted upon our communities of color. 

Here in St. Louis, we are all too familiar with the refrain of those who are committed to addressing issues of inequality and racism – “No justice, no peace.” Given our commitment to activism and social justice, it’s no surprise that the St. Louis community has joined the call to action, and I’m heartened to see the passion that drives our friends and neighbors to make their voices heard. I also am deeply concerned for the well-being of our community and remain committed to working toward a constructive path forward in our region that tackles structural disparities and inequities.

I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend thinking, and engaging in conversation with other university leaders, about how we can best support our community and advance the cause of racial justice during this time – what we could say or do that would bring comfort to those who are hurting, and show solidarity with those who are taking action. Given the enormity of the issues before us, we know without question that words are not enough, and that no “statement” will begin to resolve the tremendous challenges that are still before us. And yet, there are some things that are important to say.

First, we must acknowledge those who are suffering. To our students, faculty, staff, and any other members of our community who are feeling targeted, unheard, or unsupported, we see you and are here for you. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion means more than just welcoming every person into our community. It means valuing you as individuals with your own identities, actively acknowledging that you matter, and unwaveringly supporting your right to be treated fairly and equally in every aspect of our society. We stand with you and condemn all acts of hate, aggression, or disrespect toward any racial group that may happen anywhere in our community, our region, our country, or the world. We are committed to supporting all members of our community, and we must redouble our efforts to achieve the equity that is foundational to fostering this environment.

In addition, we remain committed to making a difference. After the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, our Washington University community began the long process of looking inward, to see how we could create space for honest dialogue about race, ethnicity, inequality, and social justice, how we could “do better and be better.” Since that time, we have taken steps as a community to become more fully engaged on these issues, and to work toward positive change. At our most recent Day of Dialogue and Action this spring, we reaffirmed our commitment to creating “intentional spaces to listen, extend empathy, celebrate, and engage in dialogue” in hopes of reflecting on our own humanity and the humanity of others. The events of this week are a painful reminder of how much work we all still have to do, as a nation and as a society.

Finally, we must take action. This includes not only supporting our community, but also doing what is at the core of our mission: leveraging our activities in support of research, teaching, and patient care to make a difference in helping to forward the cause of racial and social justice in our community, our region, and around the world. Already some of our schools have announced initiatives aimed at improving racial equity, especially focusing on racial violence. We anticipate announcing additional initiatives in the coming weeks.

The separation of our community due to the COVID-19 pandemic has placed an additional strain on our ability to come together to support, listen to, and learn from one another. We are all struggling with the disconnection from our peers, friends, and support networks, especially during this time of additional stress. But this only makes our need to create space for engagement within our community even more urgent, and we are working toward ways to do that in the days ahead. In the short-term, please stay tuned for invitations to opportunities to participate in observances and events that our leaders are currently planning. In the longer-term, we continue to listen and engage with members of our community to work toward substantive, mission-oriented action that we will take institutionally to make our city and our world beacons of opportunity for all. 

In these incredibly difficult times, I know there are no words that will be enough. But it’s important for you to know that as a community, we are united in our commitment to justice and racial equity.


Andrew D. Martin