Understanding and Responding to Racism and Systemic Inequality

Published June 17, 2020

Dear university community,

Today, we are experiencing unprecedented societal strife at the intersection of three historic moments: a global pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 115,000 Americans and disproportionately impacted Black and Hispanic communities; an economic downturn that has put more than 20 million Americans out of work and—here, too—taken an extraordinary toll on communities of color; and the culmination of frustration, anxiety and despair born out of centuries of intolerance, oppression and hatred against members of the American Black community.

Across the country, protests have brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets. They are demanding justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and many, many others. Their outrage has amplified the call to collectively address injustice, racism and violence. Doing so requires nothing less than meaningful structural change.

We know, as a university community, that we can effect change through the education of our students, our research, our creative work and our clinical care. More than ever before, UB should serve as a bastion of hope and a community of action compelled by the greater good.

If we remain loyal to our university mission—specifically, our commitment to bring the benefits of our research, scholarship, creative activities and educational excellence to bear on local and global communities—it not only defines who we are as university citizens; it drives our purpose as university citizens. As a scholarly community, it is imperative that we explore, understand and respond to racism and systemic inequality.

As a reaffirmation of our mission and values, I would like to announce several initiatives our university community is taking to address these problems. The President’s advisory council on race—comprised of faculty, staff, students and alumni—will address issues of race, culture and higher education to guide and shape our university’s programs, policies, activities, traditions. In addition, this council’s work will inform how we can harness our education, research and engagement mission to combat racism and dismantle structural barriers to equality.

Further, throughout the summer and the 2020-2021 academic year, Provost Weber will lead efforts to:

  • enhance our research priorities, pedagogies and curriculum—including our undergraduate curriculum—to build a deeper understanding of racial disparities and injustice so we can actively contribute to solutions
  • develop and implement (through policies, practices and programs) more effective ways to successfully recruit, support, professionally advance and retain underrepresented minority faculty—particularly Black faculty
  • foster meaningful conversations toward achieving our goal of cultural and structural transformation through a series of university-wide lectures, town halls and other events titled “Let’s Talk about Race” 

This is a university-wide call to action. The work of our College of Arts and Sciences and our 11 professional schools—along with Undergraduate and Graduate Education, Student Life, Athletics, University Police, Human Resources, Information Technology, Research and Economic Development, and others—will complement the efforts of the President’s advisory council on race and bring tangible measures to the fore to help realize the ideals of social justice.

The above are not intended to be definitive or exhaustive approaches to the deeply embedded problems of racism and systemic inequality. Rather, they are how and where we begin the work of enacting change.

By no means do we believe we have all the answers—or that we have asked all the right questions. However, we do believe that we must purposefully, thoughtfully and collectively move toward a just and equitable society for our Black students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends and neighbors near and far.

Satish K. Tripathi