Monday afternoon Chancellor Terisa Riley released a heartfelt message to students, faculty, and staff regarding the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, the systemic injustices highlighted by his death, and the university's committments to its Black community.
My heart is heavy as I write to you today, knowing our community is hurting once again following the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Over the past few days, I have heard from students, faculty, and staff who are exhausted and saddened after seeing another unarmed Black person killed in our country. I have seen Lions fighting through their pain to raise their voices in messages and on social media, at candle-lit vigils, and civil protests.
This summer we are apart. Classes are online, and few faculty, students, and staff are on campus. I honestly believe this makes our current situation even more difficult for all of us because we do not have the campus space and trusted people to turn to that normally help us make meaning of situations that are almost impossible to fathom. I'll confess: The mother in me came out when this occurred. I cried, and I wanted desperately to do anything I could to protect my Lion family. You see, George Floyd was an alumnus of my former institution, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where I served as a vice president for 12 years. His death hit me hard. What if this was one of my students, faculty, or staff? I can't protect you from this in the same way that I can give you a facemask or hand sanitizer. I feel helpless and want to DO something. So I will do the only things I know to do:
First, I will continue to commit to our efforts on campus to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Already we have created a campus-wide committee and participated in training, evaluated campus climate surveys, and begun a nation-wide search for a director for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Our move to online instruction and remote work due to the threat of COVID-19 has slowed our progress, but it has not stopped and will not stop.
Next, our University Police Department deserves our gratitude for tirelessly working to create a campus that is safe for all. I have talked with Chief Ottman, a man I respect for entering his profession to serve and protect ALL people. He assured me of the accountability system that he uses for reviewing officer interactions and dealing swiftly and soundly with any complaints. Proactively, Chief Ottman is committed to on-going training for all officers in the areas of de-escalation of interactions through active listening and empathy. I am impressed by his commitment to protecting all Lions and our guests and treating all people with the respect they rightfully deserve.
To our Black students, faculty, and staff members: Your lives matter. We are committed to using the power of education and engagement to bring about change on our campus and in our country. We are committed to building a culture in which you know you are protected, safe, and valued. More importantly, we are committed to providing you with a safe place where you do not have to fear being harmed and where you know we will be beside you in this journey.
Many of you want to do something, and I encourage you to do what helps your voice to be heard and keeps you safe from harm. Some examples: Register to vote or encourage others to do so; join a protest while proactively wearing a mask and staying at a safe physical distance from others; donate to a charity that helps to protect victims of crime or their families; or encourage an attorney to provide pro bono (free) legal services to a victim.
The UAFS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, the University Police Department, and our senior leadership team are working to develop places, policies, programs, and resources where our UAFS community can find support and connection. If you are a student, the Counseling Clinic staff is available with free and confidential mental health assistance to help you process your anger, grief, and sadness. Counseling is available remotely and in person by calling 479-788-7398.
UAFS employees may access their UMR Member Assistance Program for personal and confidential support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by calling 877-660-3806 (TTY: 711) or visiting liveandworkwell.com.
In closing, I remind all of you that the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith community will continue to fight for equity and inclusion for our Lions.
Terisa C. Riley"