The racism that pervades our society has again driven us to disgust, frustration, and anger. As we watch the deeply troubling events unfold around us, we ask everyone to join the call for a more just society. We encourage everyone to join us in condemning the senseless and horrific acts of violence that took the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and far too many others.

Unfortunately, these are just recent examples of injustices inflicted on people of color, and we pledge to work with others on campus and in our communities to support those who endure these injustices, challenge those who commit these injustices, and work to change the system that permits these injustices to recur on a far-too-frequent basis.

As members of this department and students of society, we are well aware that those committing many of these horrendous acts are members of the very institutions empowered to protect the public. Our research clearly shows that certain laws and police practices not only place communities of color at risk for acts of direct violence, but also unjustly increase their relative risk of the violence of arrest and incarceration. We know that citizens of color are arrested more frequently and sentenced more harshly than are white Americans who engage in similar behaviors.

Our research also clearly documents that it is not merely the horrific acts of individuals who hold explicit and implicit racial prejudices that lead to these outcomes, but so do the biases embedded in the system and the culture that legitimates that system and the prejudices of individuals.

We know this as members of this department, and we encourage everyone to oppose racial injustice in our actions, words, and thoughts. We embrace the Virginia Tech Principles of Community and echo the words of President Tim Sands and Vice President Menah Pratt-Clarke when they say, “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.”

Because we have the opportunity to educate the next leaders of our nation, including the next leaders of the nation’s criminal justice system, our department pledges to embrace this challenge. Indeed, we believe we are obligated to meet this challenge. As such, we commit to working toward:

  • Understanding the system and the injustices embedded in it;
  • Partnering with communities, especially those vulnerable to systemic injustice, to make sure their voices are heard and listened to;
  • Identifying large-scale policy reforms that can improve the system;
  • Drawing on the interdisciplinary expertise of our programs — in Africana Studies, American Indian Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Race and Social Policy, and Peace Studies and Violence Prevention — to better understand and demonstrate the multidimensional and compounded nature of systemic oppression;
  • Conducting evidenced-based research to evaluate policies and how they influence those injustices;
  • Working with community partners, including the police and other members of the criminal justice system, to implement reforms and best-practices based on research; and,
  • Working to make our students better stewards of society than what the generations before them have proven to be.

I hope you join us in this challenge, and I applaud all of the work many of you are already doing to achieve the noble goal of a more just, equitable, and humane society.

James Hawdon
Interim Chair, Department of Sociology

On behalf of members of the Virginia Tech Department of Sociology and programs in Africana Studies, American Indian Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies