Following the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide outcry for justice and change, the leaders of Spokane’s institutions of higher education came together to share a message to the community. Eastern Washington University President Mary Cullinan was among the five university leaders who contributed to the letter. The editorial was posted in The Spokesman-Review on Sunday, June 7. Below is a link to the article as well as the full text.

George Floyd should still be alive.

No Black person should fear harm from the people charged with protecting the community. The pain and outrage pulsing through our country and our community come from people who are tired of being threatened, tired of being fearful, tired of being patient, tired of waiting for things to get better. They are calling for change. And while we must listen, we also must move to action. We must bring about real and lasting change to ensure everyone is treated with dignity and equity in our country.

Some people talk about the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s as an effort that ended because its goals were reached. But people of color in our country know a different reality.

They still face discrimination in the workplace, community, education and legal systems. Their lives are at risk simply because of the color of their skin.

How can anyone be complacent when the stolen life of Floyd is viewed alongside that of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed when jogging through a white neighborhood, or Christian Cooper, a Black man who was threatened with police action by a white woman with her unleashed dog?

How can we be anything but outraged that these actions occurred decades after Martin Luther King Jr. warned us, “As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again”? Fifty-two years after the murder of that great civil rights leader, on the streets of an American city, a Black man died while crying out, “I can’t breathe.”

As leaders of the higher education institutions in Spokane, we stand in solidarity with those who are calling for change, and we pledge to do our part in educating not just our students, but our entire college communities, about the continuing injustice in our society.

We will empower them to work together for meaningful changes. We will not pretend to have all the answers, and we will never presume to act as if each of us knows what it feels like to be a person of color in America today.

As colleges and universities, we will use this moment to examine – truly and deeply examine – how we teach, what we teach, and how we treat each other during the time we have together. What are we doing in our institutions to address ongoing racism suffered by Black and historically minoritized students, faculty, staff and community members? Are we infusing knowledge and practices that build bridges, celebrate differences and protect each other? Are we immediately and directly addressing instances of racial intolerance, white supremacy or other forms of hatred? Are we bringing speakers to our campuses who can help inspire and help guide all of us through these important transitions?

It is not enough to try. We recognize we must put this at the forefront of our work. Every single day. Because the moment we stop moving forward and stop working with everyone in our community is the moment we allow another Black life to be devalued.

Last weekend, an estimated 3,000 people in Spokane – people of all races, ages, and nationalities – came together to demand justice and the end of inhuman and unfair treatment by law enforcement. This is the time for action.

Our pain as a country is deep, and healing will not come without change. Every one of us can be part of that change and we all have a responsibility to do our part.

Let’s break down the barriers that keep us separated and vow to learn more about each other. Let’s become educated about the history of discrimination and prejudice in our nation and in our region. Let’s work together to find paths toward reform, and let’s all be willing to listen – to truly listen to voices that have not been heard.

And let us honor Floyd by working to create a community in which everyone is treated with human dignity, respect and justice.

Black lives matter.

Mary Cullinan, president, Eastern Washington University

Daryll B. DeWald, vice president, Health Sciences, chancellor, WSU Spokane

Christine Johnson, chancellor, Community Colleges of Spokane

Thayne M. McCulloh, president, Gonzaga University

Beck A. Taylor, president, Whitworth University

Guest Opinion published in The Spokesman-Review on June 7, 2020