Union launches presidential initiative centered on race, power and privilege

Publication Date

President David R. Harris announced a new initiative Monday that will engage the campus community on issues of race and privilege in the country and at Union.

The President’s Initiative on Race, Power and Privilege comes in the wake of nationwide protests sparked by the death last month of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Protesters have voiced their anger and frustration with systemic racism, police brutality and social inequality and have demanded change.

“As a liberal arts college, we must provide ongoing, purposeful and diverse opportunities for our students, faculty, staff and alumni to engage on issues of race, privilege and power,” Harris said in an email to the campus community. “We must create brave spaces across campus that engage all of us where we are, and help us grow and be part of positive change.”

The initiative will begin with the creation of a steering committee composed of faculty, staff, students and alumni. Reporting to the president and Gretchel Hathaway, dean of Diversity and Inclusion, the committee will work with individuals in the campus community, faculty and student committees, student groups, departments and offices.

The committee will “evaluate what we do, how we teach and learn, and how we must change so that our community is prepared to make positive changes in our nation, our communities, our College and ourselves,” Harris said.

The group will offer recommendations “for how we can all deepen our knowledge and effect change, with a focus on national and campus experiences, policies, perspectives and histories.”

The College recently hosted a virtual forum to examine incidents of racial injustice and explore ways the Union community can respond to and learn from current events. Nearly 600 viewers listened as community members shared personal stories that at times were raw, powerful and painful.

“These are difficult times for our country, our communities, our College and ourselves,” Harris said in his email. “At each level, our conception of who we are is being challenged by a reality that is increasingly difficult to deny.”

In announcing the initiative, Harris said, “Union College must take substantial and intentional steps toward teaching, learning, reflecting and engaging in meaningful action around power and privilege. To fail to do so, would once again allow a moment of intensity and commitment to become a missed opportunity.”