All Black Lives Matter at Mines: A Call to Action on Our Campus
The recent brutal murder of George Floyd, a 46-year old African American, at the hands of police sparked a national and international wave of protest that has highlighted the often-horrific killings of Black people, and especially Black men, by police. The outrage is further amplified by the sad fact that the heinous treatment of African Americans is not an anomaly but is instead rooted in our nation’s foundations of enslavement and traumatic brutality.
Black people have often been forced to gloss over or downplay this legacy. Now, protests have erupted globally out of the lament and disgust of the treatment of Black people—those whose labor has been used for the profit of others but who have never fully benefited from all their blood, sweat and toil; those who instead have had to struggle with the boot of white supremacy, which now stretches back centuries in our country’s history, on their necks.
We, the undersigned faculty in the Division of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS)—the department at the Colorado School of Mines that focuses explicitly on “humanness” in all its forms—express our outrage not only at this disgusting act of inhumanity against one Black man but also against the cruel treatment of all Black people who have had their lives snuffed out in a matter of minutes in an encounter with law enforcement. Due to the systemic racism that has for over four centuries conveyed that they do not matter, we proclaim that “Black Lives Matter.” HASS faculty express our moral outrage and disgust because, as Martin Luther King and so many voices of social change have tried to remind us, injustice against one is injustice against all.
Colorado School of Mines has a small African American community on campus. We in HASS want to move into action by extending ourselves to engage directly with our African American members to ask what they need (or not) from us. We will ask how African Americans on our campus are affected, listen to the responses and be open to what support they might want or need. We will also be open to what African Americans think needs to change on this campus. It is vital that those of us doing the asking get out of the way and ensure that African Americans are free to speak and feel freely. If folks are reactive or offended, then the question needs to be asked: “Why are you offended?” African Americans have been carrying this collective trauma of terror for centuries now. All members of this campus—and our society at large—have a collective “moral clear moment” to face this scourge of our society and start taking steps to bring about a more perfect Union, a society in which the sins of the past can be acknowledged, atoned for, and pave a new path of equality, liberty, and opportunity for all.
Many HASS courses address issues of systemic racism, inequality, social justice, retributive versus restorative justice, the African American prophetic tradition, and much more. As faculty, we have unique opportunities and responsibilities to engage students in conversations about the systemic inequalities that structure our society. We commit, through our course designs and teaching strategies, to expose the often deeply buried roots of systemic social and racial injustice that inform all of the subjects we teach. We further commit ourselves to embed these topics as appropriate into HASS classes and engage our students to raise awareness of these issues. Moreover, we invite other members of the campus community to engage with us in workshops and experiential learning activities that can occur in communities of color and more. It is critical to include Black voices that don’t always have a seat at the table, and to ensure that these voices are centerstage in any work we do in these areas. We also offer our expertise to any department that wishes to better engage these issues in their curriculum and individual classrooms.
An engineering curriculum in which problems are largely stripped of social context only reinforces the idea that engineering has no impact on issues of race, class, gender, and other issues of inequality. The historical record contradicts that idea. That idea—from a profession in
which artifacts and services are largely designed by people, for people, and are embedded in nuanced social contexts—can and should be addressed inside the engineering curriculum; expertise exists at Mines on how to integrate socio-technical problem solving across the curriculum, and we welcome partnerships from across campus.
The top voices of leadership at Mines have often expressed that the student body should reflect the demographics of the state of Colorado, as we are a public institution. A call to action is to actively recruit Black students to pursue their degrees at Mines. Mines should strengthen the office of Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP) and the Diversity, Inclusion & Access (DI&A) program to work with the university admissions team to support programs that lead to more intentional recruitment, mentoring and retention of Black and other ethnic and racial minority students. We have a Martin Luther King Breakfast every year: this important event raises awareness, but in order to amplify the message, we need to have coordinated activities throughout the academic year. We need to expand programming that includes visiting professors, practitioners, activists, and others in order to raise awareness and put plans in place to increase and retain the number of African American students, faculty and staff on campus. But all of this will mean little if the engineering curriculum remains unchanged.
While we remain committed to helping people understand all of the systemically marginalized groups in our society, this letter addresses and acknowledges the specific issues of African Americans. In this light, we vow to develop and enact immediate and long-term actions and to
renew and deepen our commitment to work with our Mines colleagues to make Mines an exemplar of what a diverse, accessible and inclusive community looks like. As Vincent Harding reminded us, “We are the ones we are waiting for.” Let’s act and move forward in action and solidarity as a Mines community.
Kathleen J. Hancock
Jon A. Leydens
Shannon Davies Mancus