Speeches & Writings

The challenges before us

Dear Washington University community,

Racism in all forms – particularly police violence toward Black people – is a plague on our society and we must all continue to listen, engage in self-reflection, and commit to doing real work if we hope to make progress and enact meaningful, systemic change.

Along with other university leaders, I have heard from many of you during this time, sharing your passion for these extremely important issues and expressing your strong desire for the university to take concrete action to address racial inequity and injustice in the St. Louis region and at Washington University. I’ve also been reading painful social media posts from colleagues in higher education using the #BlackintheIvory hashtag, and I know that our students have similar painful stories. I have been revisiting the history of student activism at the university and how it has moved us forward. In addition, I’ve re-read the work of the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion from 2015-2017 – studying what we have done, and more importantly, what we have not done.

To everyone in our community, whether you’ve reached out personally, have joined an organized effort, or have been quietly paying attention and processing all of this in your own way, please know this: We know you want action. We know you want an opportunity to be heard and engage with others, and we will make that happen.

Deep and purposeful conversations are currently taking place among university leaders and in all seven schools, as well as with our students, with a goal of identifying specific, tangible actions that we can take – in both the short- and long-term – to help address the inequities that are so harmful to our region, particularly to Black people, and also to improve ourselves as a university.

No later than next week, university leadership and I will be back in touch with three deliverables:

  • A plan for engagement that will include opportunities to gather in virtual spaces no later than the end of June and throughout the summer, in groups large and small, to give members of our community the opportunity to ask questions, discuss the ways we can better support our Black students, faculty, and staff, and take steps to improve our climate and advance racial equity both on campus and in St. Louis.
  • Concrete actions that we can take now, including improving our campus community and culture, especially geared toward activating our mission in education and research to address systemic racism and its toll on our Black communities.
  • A plan for the upcoming academic year, to share how we will organize ourselves to harness our collective wisdom and passion into action and plan, together with the St. Louis community, how we can best be “in St. Louis, for St. Louis.”

I hope you are all finding support and space for personal reflection, particularly those of you who are experiencing trauma and are in need of healing. I encourage you to access university resources available to you as students and employees during this stressful time. I know that for many of you, managing your trauma, pain, and anger is all you can do right now. For those who are able, I hope you also will find opportunities in your own way to think, reflect, and engage in dialogue about issues of race, justice, and equity and the role we all must play in dismantling the structures that create and perpetuate oppression in our society. Personally, I have been reflecting on my white privilege during my days as a student, faculty member, and academic leader, and on my responsibility as your chancellor to lead Washington University toward an equitable future.

As we’re planning our path forward, we know we can’t do this alone. The voices of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other community members need to be heard, proposals for action both internal and external to the university need to be considered, and we will need to decide what we can and cannot do.

There are no words to adequately describe the trauma, heartbreak, pain and frustration that so many in our community are experiencing at this moment. These are profoundly difficult times, and I remain grateful for your support as we work through the dramatic challenges we are currently facing.


Andrew D. Martin