Humanity at the Core
June 1, 2020
The stories are horrific and horrifying: Police bursting into Breonna Taylor’s home and shooting her eight times; neighbors chasing and fatally shooting jogger Ahmaud Arbery; a police officer pressing his knee to the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes, long after Floyd managed to draw his last breath. Those lost lives were all precious.
The protests that have since swept across the nation all make a claim — violent policing and unpoliced, racially motivated violence reveal the racist double standard at the heart of the American contract, and it is past time to stand up in righteous refusal of these injustices.
Our college, as home to the liberal arts and human sciences at Virginia Tech, centers on the study of humanity and society, with a focus on how people have used their power to transform oppressive systems and effect social change. These lessons are urgent, and they can guide us on how to act now.
We are extremely proud of our college’s leading role in building a diverse faculty and student body, but there is so much more work to do. It is not enough to recruit talented faculty, staff, and students. We must also work to enable these members of the Virginia Tech community to thrive and feel valued, secure, and welcome, both on and off campus.
Understanding the history, culture, and contemporary lives of underrepresented and underserved communities is an essential component of our college’s academic programs. We are committed to affording every Virginia Tech student the opportunity to take courses that speak to their unique experiences in the world in a profound way.
As part of that endeavor, the college has expanded its leadership team and hired Shaila Mehra, our first-ever assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our college will also soon be launching the Academy for Transdisciplinary Studies, which will not only house our current interdisciplinary programs in Africana Studies, American Indian Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Disability Studies, but also include new programs in LGBTQI Studies, Latinx Studies, and Asian and Asian American Studies.
In addition, our faculty members are often called upon to lend their expertise to discussions on political, social, and economic inequalities. As just one recent example, Brandy Faulkner, one of our faculty members in the Department of Political Science, did a masterful moderation of a panel with the Central Park Five. In our Department of Sociology, Wornie Reed, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., is often solicited for his insights into the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of our faculty in the Department of Human Development and Family Science provide critical mental health services to the most vulnerable members of communities of color.
For many members of the our college community, these most recent losses are acutely personal and also reinforce the pain of a pandemic that has laid bare long-term structural inequities. To our faculty: Your research, teaching, learning, and service to promote an equitable society, both within and without the halls of Virginia Tech, are essential today and always. To all of those who are refusing to accept injustice and demand that the world transform to meet your highest ideals, your courage guides us.
We hope you will all have the opportunity to read the recent statement by President Tim Sands and Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and diversity. Their statement offers solace, encouragement, and resources for counseling support during these challenging, tragic times.
Laura A. Belmonte
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
Professor of History