Vice Chancellor Barker Statement - May 2022

Dear Community,

There is work we can do. 

First, I want to acknowledge the travesties we have witnessed this month. On May 16, we learned of the racially motivated shooting in Buffalo, New York where a self-proclaimed white supremacist attacked members of a predominantly Black community, killing 10 people. In the wake of this attack, there were other shootings across the country, including one at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California. This politically motivated shooting is also being investigated as a hate crime. Later this month, we learned of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas that claimed the lives of two teachers and 19 students. These events happen too often; and while gun violence impacts the lives of everyone, we know acts targeting racial, religious, LGBTQA+/two-spirited, and other cultural identities tend to deeply impact members of those groups through community and secondary trauma. For me, this trauma shows up as exhaustion. It is extremely exhausting. 

 There are often no words that can truly express the depth of pain, sadness, frustration, and at times anger, one feels at the senseless loss of lives. Author Clint Smith recently shared in The Atlantic article, “I am a writer, but I feel as if language fails me in moments such as this.” I could not agree more. While words and condolences are not the same as action, I believe expressions of love and sending thoughts, prayers, or blessings are still important to grieving communities. I wish those communities directly and indirectly impacted by these devastating events strength, peace, and healing. For members of our UNL community hurting, there are resources I hope you utilize: the Employee Assistance Program or EAP for UNL faculty/staff; and Counseling and Psychological Services or CAPS and Big Red Resilience and Well-Being for UNL students. Some colleges and units, like Education and Human Sciences, reached out to their faculty, staff, and students to offer specific support and guidance; checking in is important too. For others who may be seeking support, please seek out national and local resources or contact NAMI.

There is no doubt that these occurrences point to a need for greater action—policies, practices, and education. I believe as institutions of higher education we are well positioned to address this national issue through our ability to foster learning, discussion, and critical dialogue. The events of Buffalo and Uvalde were days apart and outside of including a lone shooter, would appear to not be connected. However, research and history indicate a clear connection between race, identity, and gun violence and how gun policy and race are matters of public health and racial justice. Additionally, FBI director Christopher Wray noted an increase in domestic terrorism and how more individuals are becoming radicalized in various ways, including through racial and ethnic bias. How do we counter hate and bias and provide the support people need?

 There is work we can do. Certainly, as private citizens we can be civically engaged with our community leaders and agencies and city, state, and national lawmakers. As a University, we can remain committed to standing against hate and injustice and identify opportunities to increase our own understanding of structural and systemic racism and inequities. Part of this effort has already been realized through our Grand Challenges, where we recognize more research is needed on racism and racial inequities if we are to address one of the biggest challenges impacting our society’s ability to thrive. As educators and leaders, we can create opportunities where everyone can learn how to build and sustain inclusive, equitable, and just spaces and environments. ODI continues to update our Commitment to Change and is making social justice a major component of our strategic plan. We plan to reinvigorate the Hate Will Never Win campaign and routinize conversations on racial and gender bias and equity, de/colonization, systemic exclusion and oppression, and social responsibility. 

 This month also marked the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. I am still exhausted, but I remain committed to making our country better for future generations through my sphere of influence. I recognize to sustain this work means moving ahead with radical self-care but with a level of hope and determination. Lastly, I hope these moments of solidarity in the face of tragic events are not merely performative, knee-jerk reactions but are reminders that we have much work to do. 

signature of Marco barker
Marco Barker
Vice Chancellor