Dear members of the Duquesne University community,

After a very difficult weekend for so many both in our city and across the nation, I wanted to write and share some thoughts. Although it's impossible to heal wounds so fresh, it is nonetheless important to renew our pledge to stand up against discriminatory conduct and injustice wherever we see it on display. As institutions of higher education, we have a special duty to seek a pathway forward that is illuminated by an unyielding commitment to equality, mutual respect and caring for all human beings. Already, our lives had been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, that stress is magnified a hundred-fold by the recent, unspeakable tragedy involving the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

That inexcusable act has now produced unintended consequences. Peaceful protests and demonstrations, expressing the collective despair and frustration of communities that have been wracked by such injustices for far too long, have now exploded into destruction and violence. Although the violence that occurred in our city and elsewhere over the weekend dishonors the true motives of the demonstrators and George Floyd's memory, we must nonetheless hear and respond to the expressions of pain and the quest for justice expressed.

No words are sufficient to take away the pain and hurt cause by the senseless act of violence and utter disrespect for human life that caused George Floyd's death. Yet it is important to join hands as a University family and heal together, by reaffirming our collective promise to call out and eliminate discrimination in our midst, root and branch. To that end, I share with you a prayer sent to me this morning by Fr. Jim McCloskey, a Spiritan priest who serves as one of my senior advisors. That prayer, offered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at a conference dealing with the corrosive effects of racism, is more relevant today than ever. It calls all of us to awaken ourselves to injustice and to commit ourselves to acts that are important to our fellow people, in order to reverse the wrongdoing and harsh treatment that have for too long stained our American society:

Wake Me Up Lord

Wake me up Lord, so that the evil of racism
finds no home within me.
Keep watch over my heart Lord,
and remove from me any barriers to your grace,
that may oppress and offend my brothers and sisters.
Fill my spirit Lord, so that I may give
services of justice and peace.
Clear my mind Lord, and use it for your glory.
And finally, remind us Lord that you said,
"blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God."

I share this prayer not only to bring you comfort, but to inspire all of us to remove barriers to justice, to fill our spirits with compassion, and to commit ourselves with all of the power at our command to becoming the peacemakers.

For all of Duquesne's 142-year history, we have sought as a University to underscore the importance of learning to walk with others and to know them and hear their stories, struggles, and aspirations. We do so in the neighborhoods near our campus and in locations around the world.

One of our most famous local residents, Pittsburgh-born playwright August Wilson-who grew up in the Hill District near our campus and has inspired our own students and faculty-wrote a statement in The New York Times in 2000 that was tragically prescient. Wilson wrote: "The details of our struggle to survive and prosper, in what has been a difficult and sometimes bitter relationship with a system of laws and practices that deny us access to the tools necessary for productive and industrious life, are available to any serious student of history or sociology." Twenty years later, that statement is, if anything, more urgent-which reflects a moral failure of our society and constitutes a call to action for all of us who are educators, who work in communities, and who strive for ethical and moral leadership.

The call to action starts at home, within our own community. Please be open to talking with one another, to hearing one another, and being patient and receptive with what is said. Know that we have resources on campus as well through the Center for Student Wellbeing, Campus Ministry, Counseling Services, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Our many faculty and staff, too, are here to serve each student and to assist one another. While ours are ongoing discussions, those discussions must help move us toward helpful actions.

Regardless of your faith background, the entreaty in the prayer sent to me by Fr. McCloskey, above, is urgently important at this moment. It is not only important to honor and seek justice for George Floyd and his family, but also to challenge ourselves as individuals-and as members of the Duquesne community-to serve the noble, pressing work of justice.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 8,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The Universitys academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim.

It's time for bigger goals
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June 01, 2020