‘Justice served’: 12 college leaders share powerful words after Chauvin verdict

Higher education leaders across the country impart strong messages after the trial result in the murder of George Floyd and offer support for their communities.

After former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of two counts of murder and one of manslaughter in the death of George Floyd late Tuesday, college and university leaders reacted swiftly with heartfelt and powerful messages to their communities.

Collectively, they praised the verdict as a “relief” for the nation, for Floyd’s family, for the Black community and for their own students who had been profoundly affected over the past year and helped lead the many protests during last summer’s Black Lives Matter marches.

Recognizing the importance of the moment and the decision by the jury, higher education presidents and officials nonetheless reiterated what many of the lawyers and Floyd’s family members said after the trial – the fight against injustice and police violence is not over.

“We join others across the nation in expressing relief that justice was served,” Gary May, president of the University of California at Davis said in a statement, which included a reference to a phrase spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

“We’re optimistic that this decision may represent an inflection point, where we begin to overcome racial and social injustices that have been pervasive in policing,” May continued. “Whatever you feel about today’s verdict, it’s another reminder of how much more we have to do to heal as a nation. The work continues.”

May ended the letter with this message to students and faculty: “Breathe, hope, and let’s continue to work together and find a way forward. Keep following the bend of that arc.”

Across the nation, college and university leaders each cited the impact of this monumental decision and reminded those in their communities of the many supports that exist on campuses to help them during this emotional moment and in the future.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) called again for a United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing and Transfomation. that “would create both a democratic process and a national framework within which racial healing can begin by striking at the very roots of racism. The growing number of TRHT Campus Centers serve as become of hope and leading the way in breaking down racial hierarchies.”  

Here are samples of their powerful messages to their communities:

BALL STATE UNIVERSITY, Geoffrey Mearns, President: “I cannot fully comprehend the impact that this trial and this verdict has had on many people, particularly members of our African American community. But I do know that Mr. Floyd’s murder, and other more recent events, continue to evoke feelings of anguish, fear, and frustration. Those feelings are genuine, and our students and our colleagues deserve our empathy and our support. … In the days and weeks to come, some members of our campus community may want to express their continuing demands for racial and social justice. It is my expectation that everyone will express their strongly held views peacefully. Let us follow the courageous lead of our students who organized a massive, yet peaceful march last June in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death.”

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, Lee Bollinger, President: “Having devoted much of my professional life to the law, and to the ideal of the rule of law, I find the verdict to be both heartening and depressing. Justice has been met, but it cannot erase the decades and centuries of injustices to Black people. … If we learned anything from the Civil Rights Movement centered around the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, it is that only persistent and painstaking efforts will bring true and comprehensive justice. I have waited for legal judgments before, but none has been more important than this one today, in a state court in Minnesota, to recommitting the society to removing the practices of invidious discrimination against Black Americans.”

CREIGHTON UNIVERSITY, Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, President: “While the jury’s decision marks a significant milestone in this particular case, we should not – and cannot – view this verdict as a conclusion to critically important discussions, reflections, and conversations that need to occur around race and systemic racism in this country. The inalienable worth of each individual and appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity are core values at Creighton. We are all created equal in the eyes of a loving God. Let this be a moment that moves us forward – in loving and committed action – to create a more just world for all.”

ELON UNIVERSITY, Connie Book, President: “It is a historic verdict in a case that tore at the fabric of our nation and starkly exposed the injustice faced by Black Americans and other marginalized groups. This is a defining moment — an opportunity we must seize to make changes that are long overdue, including criminal justice reform.”

UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO, Satish Tripathi, President: “The deep-seated hurt, sadness and anger that George Floyd’s murder evoked cannot be wiped away with the reading of a guilty verdict. It is my ardent hope that as we pause and reflect on the verdict, we consider how we can transform this moment in our collective history into a turning point for genuine reconciliation and change: change in our hearts, our minds, our practices, our systems. We at UB can actively contribute to transformative change through our mission and its expression in our education, our research, scholarship and creative activities, and our engagement with one another and the many communities we serve. Together, as a university community, we must continue working toward the ideals of social justice, recognizing that achieving them will lead to a brighter future for those who have been marginalized and disenfranchised throughout our country’s history — and for our nation as a whole.”

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Michael Drake, President, and John PÁ©rez, UC Board of Regents Chair: “As the prosecution made abundantly clear, Derek Chauvin grossly and maliciously overstepped his duties as a police officer when he killed George Floyd. The jury confirmed what many of us who watched that horrible video know to be true: Floyd was murdered. This verdict will not ameliorate the incredible pain and grief the Floyd family are experiencing, or the pain and suffering endured by so many more. It does, at least, reaffirm the principle that no one is above the law.”

UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY, Eli Capilouto, President: “In the last several weeks, killings of people of color have occurred in Chicago, again, in Minnesota and in Atlanta. Only a few weeks ago, we solemnly marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of our former student, Breonna Taylor. … The sense of loss and concern about who we are and where we are as a country can be overwhelming at times. I can’t imagine what our neighbors and loved ones of color must feel and how traumatic and exhausting these individual and collective experiences must be for them. There’s no way for so many of us to fully understand, but we can be there — to listen, to offer support, to provide space and to commit to change. The word university is derived from Latin roots, meaning “a whole.” A university is a community of teachers, scholars, students and staff. We are many individuals, many perspectives and identities, bound together as one — many people, one community, seeking to make our world better. That is what we want for ourselves and each other. And it is what we want for our students, who we are preparing not only to compete in the world, but to change it.”

UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS AT BOSTON, Marcelo Suarez Orozco, Chancellor: “We cannot undo the inhumanity in the murder of George Floyd. Today, a jury in Minnesota finally delivered a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the merciless killing of George Floyd. The videotaped evidence of the former police officer kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes is seared forever in the conscience of all persons of good-will as the very embodiment of senseless racist destructiveness and the abuse of power in its most pure form. No linguistic game could cover up the irrefutable fact: The actions were deliberate and had deadly consequences for yet another Black human being in America.  I hope that members of our community, especially students, faculty, and staff of color, feel some sense of accountability from the unanimous verdict on all three counts rendered today in Minnesota.  The jury’s decision, however, is not an end but the beginning of renewed collective efforts to eliminate violence against our Black members of our community and to undo the institutional forces of racialized oppression, injustice, impunity, and hate.”

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA CHARLOTTE, Sharon Gaber, Chancellor: “ We are not naive to believe one verdict will change the course for all violence against Black, Brown and other historically oppressed and marginalized people. Difficult work remains, and it is for all of us to make sure this marks the beginning of a transformation to a more equitable and just world. As a University community, we denounce every form of hatred, bigotry, racism and violence, and strive to create an environment that celebrates and supports one another. Racism degrades our pursuit of true equity, liberty and justice, and it undermines our ability to create opportunity through teaching, research and service. We are committed to finding ways to work toward equitable treatment for all people … where everyone has the same opportunities to grow and thrive, and where there is no doubt that Black lives matter.

UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME, Rev. John Jenkins, President: “We welcome the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd. The appalling cruelty depicted in the video of Mr. Floyd’s death along with the terrible legacy of the treatment of Black men and women in police custody led many to hope for a reckoning in this case, and we believe justice was done. May this verdict be a first step on a road to police reform and a renewed battle against racism and bigotry anywhere and in any form. We pray for the eternal rest of George Floyd, and for his family and loved ones. We pray too for all police officers, the vast majority of whom serve the public professionally and compassionately.”

UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO, Gregory Postel, President: “As an institution of higher education, we have both an opportunity and responsibility to be leaders in the fight for social justice reform both on and off our campus. We must facilitate the critical conversations necessary to identify and eliminate inequities. It is only by embracing that which makes each of us unique that we can fulfill our mission to improve the human condition for all. This monumental case has raised awareness about inequality and systemic racism — two issues that we must address head-on as a campus community. We will continue to offer open communication in a safe and structured environment, facilitating discussions for processing and providing opportunities for all members of our campus community’s voices to be heard.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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