Week two letter from President Andy Armacost

Week two. As I type this letter, I have a range of emotions: excitement for becoming part of the UND community, outrage over yet another national example of an injustice for a member of the Black community, concern about the state of race relations on campus, and hope for a stronger future for UND and its members.

My first video message to the campus on Monday focused on George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, and how we, as a nation, grieve for his family and friends. His death, following numerous cases just like this, has ignited protests across the nation, highlighting racial disparity and tensions within our country. There has been an outcry for justice and a desire for a sense of community and healing.

On Tuesday, I received messages from across our community regarding several campus incidents that happened during the spring semester.  Whether it was two student-athletes in a video singing a song that repeatedly uses the n-word or a group of students shouting a racist phrase in their Grand Forks neighborhood, these behaviors are inconsistent with our institutional values.

As your new President, I must be clear in stating my goal for a campus that rejects racism and discrimination. This is the goal for our entire leadership team—our Vice Presidents, Athletic Director, Deans, unit and elected leaders. We acknowledge the pain and weight that racism, bias, and inequity places on our students, faculty, and staff of color. We face daunting work to heighten equity and improve representation on campus. What gives us hope, however, is that universities have a long history of catalyzing change and promoting growth. Let’s capitalize on the incredible expertise of our faculty and staff so UND can be that place.

The most important step we can take now is to chart a course for moving forward as a community. You will undoubtedly have great ideas, and I encourage you to share them with campus leaders. You can expect us to listen, act, and communicate. We will immediately:

  • Schedule listening sessions with our student, faculty, and staff. This will begin with members of our campus affinity groups, as their perspectives are particularly important in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and recent campus events.
  • Establish a special university task force on race, gender, and diversity with a bold charter to identify process, practices, and everyday actions that lead to equitable outcomes. With broad representation, this task force will identify gaps in our ability to solve issues of racism and discrimination, specify data needs that will pinpoint how and where it impacts our campus, and promote actions we need to take individually and as a community.
  • Commit to communicate openly about the progress of this task force and about incidents of racism and discrimination on and off campus, constrained only by what the law prevents us from sharing.

Our campus must be a forum for ideas, providing the opportunity for our members to grow as learners and citizens.  As a public university, we have a First Amendment responsibility to protect free speech, no matter how offensive it is. Yet, we must collectively speak up against bias and confront hatred. As individuals, we must educate ourselves and hold our peers and others accountable for their words and actions.  We must listen empathetically to those who are being impacted and protect those who feel unsafe.  We must have dialogue and action on the toughest issues we face as a campus, city, state, and nation. We must do so immediately and forever, and this work must not fall solely on people of color.

If, like many, you are at a loss for where to begin, let me suggest you start by reading Claude Steele’s book, Whistling Vivaldi. It will help you build a sense of empathy for others who have had an entirely different life experience simply due to the color of their skin, their gender identity, or their sexuality. In addition, our Teaching Transformation and Development Academy (TTaDA) will host book groups on a variety of issues relating to diversity, bias, and racism.  We will give you the book, and all you need to do is show up with an open mind.

We must strive to become one campus with a sense of belonging for all. Let’s start now.

Andy Armacost

Read more of President Andy Armacost’s communications.