Call for Community in Light of Recent Racist Attacks Against African-Americans

by Dr. Mary A. Papazian

These past few months have been very difficult for all of us. But with recent national news reports centering on the violent killing of George Floyd by a police officer on Memorial Day and the dangerous racial profiling of Christian Cooper in Central Park, the last several days have been particularly painful for many members of the SJSU community. Though these incidents are geographically far from San Jose, they carry great weight because they tap into the lived experiences of many black and brown people everywhere—including here in the Bay Area and for members of our own SJSU community.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have had to write a message to our campus regarding racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant attacks, anti-Muslim attacks or, most recently, anti-Asian, xenophobic attacks related to COVID-19. In this moment, I find myself deeply affected by what I’ve seen and heard in these incidents. This violence is not happening to other people…it is happening to all of us. I’ve spent a career spanning communities like Detroit, New York, New Jersey, and now San Jose. We are unquestionably connected whether the faces, languages, or traditions resemble yours or not. Our fundamental humanity is shared no matter the household in which you are born.

These incidents cut to the core of our sense of physical and psychological safety, particularly for our African-American/Black community and for those whom we love, care, learn and work alongside.

The attacks also reinforce and magnify the experience of systemic inequity and the slow progress that has been made over the years in our society and in our own context of higher education. We continue to work hard at San José State University to address these inequities through the establishment of an African-American/Black Student Success Center, hiring of new faculty in our African-American Studies Program, focus in Academic Affairs on increasing the promotion rates of faculty of color and taking an honest look at ourselves through the Campus Climate and Belonging Survey. Having said that, we recognize that these steps need to be taken within an understanding of how they operate systemically to reduce inequities. We need to look at systemic change, not just isolated improvements.

We denounce racist profiling of black and brown people. We denounce efforts to belittle, minimize or deny the very real and salient reactions and fears experienced by those who belong to targeted groups. We must learn to listen. We can learn to be better allies, to educate ourselves and each other rather than expect those who are experiencing these attacks to educate us.

To be truly inclusive, we must have the courage to talk directly about the specifics of discrimination, attacks and exclusion while always promoting our core values of equity, inclusion and diversity. 

We are proud to be one of the most diverse campus communities in the nation but we still have much work to do. As we head into summer and toward fall semester, please join with me in standing up for our shared values of inclusion, equity, fairness, and respect.


Dr. Mary A. Papazian