We are living through a challenging time that demands we reflect deeply on our values and actions.
Against the backdrop of stress caused by the pandemic, this nation has seen racism and xenophobia continue to deny people opportunities, services, access to education, and even life itself. Most recently, we grieve the tragic death of George Floyd along with too many others who have senselessly lost their lives.
These acts of social injustice must catalyze us to ask questions, find solutions, and take action to change the systems of belief that undermine our humanity. It is a time that calls on us to come together as individuals and move forward with empathy, determination, and purpose to uphold our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Below are words from Graduate College staff members that we wish to share with our graduate community.
The events of the past few days, when coupled with the shocking realization that black lives have again been taken needlessly, underscore the need for all of us to reaffirm our commitment to social justice. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are the fundamental values upon which our society is built and they form the principles that we must adhere to if we are to advance as a nation. We honor the memory of George Floyd and all those who have preceded him. At the Graduate College, Black Lives Matter. – Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko
Our reactions influence the health of our current academic spaces; do we strive for intellectual courage in the debate of ideas? Do we create avenues for constructive disagreement and unpopular perspectives? More importantly, how do we treat others who hold opposing views, hail from different backgrounds, or espouse unpopular beliefs? The answers to these questions set the tone for our intellectual spaces and for the legacy of ideas we choose to cultivate. – Lissette Piedra
Diversity and social justice are the principles on which higher education must operate. Our commitment to diversity and social justice means that we are actively facilitating a safe and inclusive environment for students of diverse backgrounds to learn and thrive in. Building and fostering a diverse population of students, faculty, and staff is the framework in which real learning happens. – Allison McKinney
I do not know your experience, but I see you. I stand with you. I kneel with you. I see your beautiful children and I commit to the work of making the future a place where Black Lives Matter. – Dana Johnson
Before Jamestown, 1619, people of African ancestry lived and worked in this country—both as free and enslaved people. Now, in the age of COVID-19, Black Americans and other racialized groups, continue to suffer from a systemic, structural, entrenched virus of racism and discrimination that plagues our communities in pandemic proportions borne out by social, political, educational, and economic disenfranchisement. The senseless murder of George Floyd and so many others awakened us to the reality that much more must be done to solve the problem of institutional racism. We know that knowledge through education and research informs the actions needed to find remedies. Opportunities to become educated, thus knowledgeable, must be made accessible to everyone, without exclusion. – Ave M. Alvarado
Graduate students will become tomorrow’s leaders. We need fresh perspectives to help us all tackle these social issues to do better. My hope is that each of us can make changes—big and small—daily so that all people feel valued. – Natalie Bosecker
One of our main tasks is supporting graduate students as they navigate academic and professional contexts that are shaped by racism and other forms of systemic exclusion. But academic and professional advice can often make inequitable structures seem natural and normal, as if the problems rest with the student and not with the systems in which they are enmeshed. Being committed to transformative inclusion means that we must actively and consistently work to do the opposite: to identify barriers, work to remove them, and empower graduate students to understand, analyze, and change the systems they are part of, now and in their future careers. – Derek Attig
Our words, narratives, and actions can perpetuate or reframe our course. We all must do the hard work of understanding how systemic injustice operates. No one is exempt from the deep personal reflection on difficult topics and the accountability needed to bring change. – Charlotte Bauer
Diversity and social justice are critical to the mission of any higher education institution and they must be incorporated into admissions and student advising, classroom instruction and faculty mentoring, policy and process decision making, and communications and outreach. At Illinois, we are in a position to influence change and to promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice. We must listen to and truly hear our students and our community, and we must speak out alongside them and advocate for change. We must do more, and we must do better. – Beth Spark
My work in student success is informed by my belief that every student deserves the support, information, and resources to help them achieve their academic and professional goals. I am committed to working every day to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion through supporting students as they achieve their academic and professional goals. We have far to go before our society fully addresses our deep and structural racial inequities. Our future depends on including and respecting the voices, perspectives, and contributions of every member of our community, particularly those who have been excluded and ignored because of these inequities. – Alexis Thompson
One of my personal heroes, Thich Naht Hahn, a Monk and Peace Activist, from Vietnam once said, “In order for a lotus flower to bloom, it must come from mud.” Right now, I think we are in the mud stage. But soon, with the help of intensified actions on accountability, change, and compassion for those who have been hurting during these past few months and years, a lotus flower will begin to bloom. – Nic Morse
Social and racial justice in graduate education means centering the experiences and needs of graduate students who are members of underrepresented communities. Social and racial justice is recognizing the need for the voices of Black and other marginalized communities in research and scholarship to address social inequities that plague society. We must value their perspectives, experiences, and recognize the need for their voices in higher education. I am committed to supporting and advocating for you as graduate students at the University of Illinois. We are here to listen to your concerns and help you to find ways to address them. – Gabriela Vargas
The Graduate College offers many fellowship programs, but by far the largest of these is our Graduate College Fellowship for Underrepresented Students, a recruitment fellowship that brings to campus top students from populations underrepresented in graduate education. We actually dedicate more funds to that fellowship program than to all of our other fellowship programs combined. I think the adage is true, “If you want to see what people really value, look at how they spend their money.” I’m proud to be part of an enterprise that puts its money where its mouth is in terms of promoting diversity. – Ken Vickery
The words I keep trying to find aren’t adequate, so I will continue to do everything I can to support the integral work of our diversity programs as we strive for equity so that the words of our students will be heard. – Renee Hart
Diversity, equity, and inclusion must be interwoven as our values in higher education. We are entrusted with training future leaders at the highest level to identify problems, exercise critical thinking, provide solutions, and create new knowledge. Our best ideas and solutions come from diverse leaders who reflect the talent across all populations and who bring their lived experiences and voices to the table. I am committed to supporting and advocating for our graduate students, especially those who have been marginalized and have experienced social and racial injustice, to develop their full potential. I am here to listen, learn, and labor. – Ellen Wang Althaus
Though our community has been through a lot of upheaval in the last few months, I'm still so glad to be part of it. I'm proud to be surrounded by people, both next door and across the world, who care so much about these issues and are working to make our community a more inclusive and respectful place. We're not there yet, but we are on the way to a better world. Just remember to take care of one another. – Tatum Hawkins