President Gunderson Statement on Social Justice
Park University supports social justice, as it enriches our educational environment. Social justice challenges the contagion effects of stereotypes and preconceptions while contributing to critical thinking and effective communication among students, faculty and staff, regardless of background.
Even with that support, we live in a world where people are judged far too often by the color of their skin than by their character; where the parent/child conversations to accompany the passing along of car keys can be vastly different, depending on the racial background of the family; where saying “Black lives matter” is viewed by some as a threat rather than a simple statement of fact. The death of George Floyd, and so many others, is a reminder that racism is very much alive and negatively impacts the lives of many.
Yet, we also live in a world of hope. Our past and present actions demonstrate that we can, and must, do better for the future.
At a time when Black students were denied an education in Parkville, Mo., Park supported the Black community in their efforts to build the Banneker School by making the bricks for their first building. When Japanese American students were being sent to internment camps during World War II, Park invited nine Nisei students to study here. Today, Park leads an effort to systematically review the Medal of Honor awarding practices during World War I, because evidence supports that minority service members may have been denied the highest military honor due to the pervasive prejudices that were commonplace during the early 20th century.
But Park’s history, of course, is not without blemish and our work is not done. We must increase our efforts to create a world that is more inclusive and values diversity, as both are essential for a strong and just society. We must model for our students and community the processes of learning, reflection and continual improvement. We are equipped for this charge; Park University’s capacity to educate allows us to present the full scope of history and gives us the tools to communicate and take actions that will make a positive difference.
Over the last several weeks, I have been talking with a cross-section of Park’s constituents to discuss the steps we should take to address systemic racism and its impact on our community. As a result of those discussions, the following initiatives will become an immediate focus for our University:
• Academics. We will share more broadly the work of our faculty to create opportunities for students to deepen their knowledge and increase their commitment to social justice. Examples include the Department of Psychology and Sociology’s Diversity and Social Justice certificate, the Peace Journalism program and many other curricular and co-curricular experiences. As part of this undertaking, Park commits to review our curriculum to ensure incorporation of more materials from scholars of underrepresented groups. This undertaking aspires to discourage the pernicious effect of academic prejudice and cultural insensitivity, whether it arises in textbooks or on campuses. As an institution of higher learning, our response must be anchored in our mission.
• Banneker School. Park University will assist in the effort to raise $120,000 to finish the first phase of the Banneker School restoration. We will be asking for your financial support and to assist in the work (additional details are forthcoming). The re-opening of this school as living history will afford a new generation the chance to better understand what systemic racism is and how many worked together to make the American dream more accessible to students who otherwise would have been denied an education because of bigotry.
• Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee. This group, formed during the 2019-20 academic year, will remain focused on how Park can improve the diversity and inclusion among our faculty and staff. Their efforts include examining our hiring practices to address shortcomings in diversity and inclusion from a staffing perspective; enhancing our culture related to recruitment and retention; workplace learning and training; and leadership development at all levels.
• Listening. We will develop a series of listening sessions as we start the Fall semester so that I and others can better understand the challenges, frustrations and fears of our students, faculty and staff related to social justice and racism. My hope is we can use the arts, our library and existing student organizations to help define multiple ways we can listen, learn and grow.
The initiatives above do not represent an exhaustive list of all we will do, but they reflect Park’s next steps championing the cause of social justice. We will update you as we move forward. I know there is much that I do not yet understand, so I invite you to share your recommendations, experiences and thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We live in an extremely challenging time on so many fronts, but I am convinced that love and reason, as a response to hate and ignorance, is essential as we celebrate multiculturalism and treat discriminatory behavior as dangerous to our educational goals.
Yours in faith and labor.
Greg Gunderson, Ph.D.