As head of the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Virginia Tech, I have struggled to compose the right words to articulate the mix of emotions that many of us are feeling during this most challenging time in the history of our country — the resounding calls for steps toward racial justice and the amelioration of inequities alongside the resounding silence and isolation created by COVID-19.

Oscar Grant. John Crawford III. Michael Brown. Amadou Diallo. Atatiana Jefferson. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. And now George Floyd. We also recognize LGBTQIA+ victims of hate crimes … Alunte Davis, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lyndsay, Tony McDade, Ronald Peters, and Timothy Blanch. We should not forget the terror and murders committed in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

These are the names of people whose lives have been recently taken by the sickness of intersecting and interlocking systems of oppression — racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, transphobia, and xenophobia. Together, we mourn the countless losses of our fellow Americans and others around the world. As family and developmental scientists, we understand how these devastating losses and violence affect families.       

In a joint statement issued on May 31, President Tim Sands and Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Diversity Menah Pratt-Clarke encouraged Hokies to remember our aspirations toward social justice. They also reminded us that with having those aspirations, there is accountability:

At Virginia Tech, we have anchored that aspiration in our Principles of Community, but principles only become meaningful if they are acted upon. Our strategic plan, The Virginia Tech Difference — Advancing Beyond Boundaries, takes the principles one step further to actionable priorities and accountability. Let’s work together to ensure that Virginia Tech becomes a model for a just and equitable learning community that prepares the next generation to lead in a new and better world.

On June 1, Dean Laura Belmonte of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences described our own college as the home to the liberal arts and human sciences at Virginia Tech. As such, she wrote in a statement, our college has “a focus on how people have used their power to transform oppressive systems and effect social change.”

Let us join with President Sands, Vice President Pratt-Clarke, Dean Belmonte, and others in departments and units throughout Virginia Tech on this endeavor to make a difference.

We — the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the Department of Human Development and Family Science — can make that difference. For more than 20 years, it has been my privilege and experience to see that HDFS Hokies do not merely dream, but we are active doers and life changers. HDFS Hokies actively serve in communities here and globally with the deliberate intent to make the world a better place for children, couples, families, and communities. Kindness, civility, reflectivity, passion, and empathy are not local commodities; rather, they can be shared, expanded, and modeled. We are a discipline whose scholars and practitioners educate and heal.  

The Department of Human Development and Family Science encourages our students and alumni to use the knowledge and skills that we have imparted to you in your classes, service-learning opportunities, and field studies to reject, with conviction, discriminatory and marginalizing actions, beliefs, and practices that degrade people, keep us disconnected from one another’s humanity within divisive ideological silos, and result in senseless tears and deaths.

We encourage you to build connections, to further educate yourselves so that you can engage in difficult conversations about diverse social identities and privilege, and to provide potential allies with a chance to become a part of a positive coalition for authentic change.

Through education, service, and empathy, we can build a common ground. We encourage you to contribute actively to efforts to support health, well-being, healing, and connection in our communities. We honor the ways in which you will contribute, as they are as diverse as all of you.

Poet and activist Lindsay Young recently shared:

Resistance is NOT a one lane highway. Maybe your lane is protesting, maybe your lane is organizing, maybe your lane is counseling, maybe your lane is art activism, maybe your lane is surviving the day. Do NOT feel guilty for not occupying every lane. We need all of them.

This is a moral moment and an opportunity for all of us to stand up united against institutional racism and other systems of oppression that sustain structural disparities and inequities. This is our chance to be courageous enough to choose hope, dignity, and action.  

Although I began this statement reflecting upon my own experience to put my thoughts into words, I am part of a community of scholars and practitioners within an academic department. Faculty members in this department also contributed their words and hope into the refinement of this collaborative statement.

In peaceful solidarity,

April Few-Demo
Professor and Head
Department of Human Development and Family Science

Virginia Tech