Social Injustices and Unrest

A Letter from Bastyr University's Associate Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Kortet Mensah, PhD

Hello Bastyr Community,

It’s with a sad and heavy heart that I write this to you.

No doubt, many of us are tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed by the continual display of oppression of all forms in our society and namely racism against African-Americans/African descendants. As President Patterson indicated in his campus message, these issues have been ongoing for communities of color collectively and specifically for African-Americans/African descendants for over 400 years. Yes, 400 years. Let that sink in.

Please know that building on the works of social justice activists, our University is working in strategic and sustainable ways to do our part to authentically become a community that advances diversity, equity, inclusion. As has been shared in other communications, this work includes our first:

  • (In-house) DEI Trainings commenced during Fall 2019
  • DEI Commitment included in all syllabi
  • DEI metrics/goals supported by the Board of Trustees and Senior Leadership
  • Inclusive recruitment practices (being developed and piloted)
  • DEI Conversation Series beginning Spring 2020

These are just a few of the institutional-level efforts being enacted. As discussed in the DEI trainings, our tasks in “Unmasking Oppression” as the DEI Theme calls for, is to address all levels of oppression. These levels are:

  • Individual Oppression: beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that perpetuate oppression.
  • Institutional Oppression: ways in which institutional policies and practices perpetuate oppression.
  • Systemic Oppression: how the major systems in our lives—economy, politics, education, criminal justice, health, etc.—perpetuate oppression.
  • Structural Oppression: how individuals, institutions, and systems reinforce one another in ways that perpetuate oppression.

Though the University can’t give you direction on addressing systemic and structural oppression, for that is outside the University’s purview, we ask that you positively engage with the DEI institutional efforts. Being mindful that the purpose of the University’s efforts is to increase our collective ability (institutional and individual) to do the hard work that’s needed to dismantle oppression of all kinds, with institutional and systemic racism being centered in the recent (yet recurring) examples.

Please know that the University leadership is committed to doing the individual and institutional work needed. For instance, for individual efforts, the recent 3-weeks DEI Conversations series (that focused on self and community care in light of the pandemic and recent social injustices) were co-facilitated and attended by several senior leaders in partnership with key DEI partners (e.g., AVPDEI Mensah, VP Weider, AVP Newman, President Patterson, Provost Rule, Professor Elson-Schwab, Professor Achterman, Senior Administrator Harding, Director Herbison). Thanks to the campus members (staff, faculty and students from all locations) who participated in the series. Similarly, ALANA meetings are scheduled for this week to support the students of color who are undoubtedly being doubly taxed during this already challenging time.

We invite you to engage and support each other in empathetic, compassionate and supportive conversations to live out the latter portion of the DEI theme: Bringing Humanity to the Conversation. This is the time for us to live out our DEI commitment, theme and mission. However, please avoid engaging in organized conversations (via class discussions, co-curricular events, etc.) that are not coordinated with the University’s DEI leadership. Doing so will help us avoid potentially recreating learning spaces that mimic the 2016 incident (for those of us who were here) that led to racial discord on campus due to community members initiating conversations that required more skills/ability than they had to handle such conversations. We're working hard to move our University past that, please join us in doing so.

Though some community members may feel that more should be done, please remember the 400-years statistic as well as Bastyr’s 40-year history of DEI firsts. It is in our 40th year that we’ve made more institutional movement than the past. Please be mindful that intentional DEI efforts take time, especially those that are designed to be sustainable and long-lasting. Let’s resist the urge to champion for one-off efforts. As the current social unrest indicates, we’re in need of structured institutional efforts supported by individual efforts (not in direct opposition). This is how we as a community (at Bastyr) can move forward.

 

With a broken yet hopeful heart, I call you into doing this work collaboratively.

Kortet Mensah, PhD

A Letter from Bastyr University President, Harlan Patterson

Dear Bastyr Community,

The Bastyr University mission is:  We educate future leaders in the natural health arts and sciences. Respecting the healing power of nature and recognizing that body, mind, and spirit are intrinsically inseparable, we model an integrated approach to education, research, and clinical service.

Right now, this mission seems more meaningful and relevant to our futures than ever.  In addition to being a university president, I am also a father and grandfather. I'm a family member with the normal struggles and the multiple joys of just living.  At the same time, I am fully aware that our police and justice systems are deeply infected with racism.  I grew up with respect and appreciation for our police.  Only later did I understand I do not bear the same burden as our communities of color (especially African American/African descendants) who instead must learn to engage with police in ways to increase their chance of survival after these encounters.   The racism that creates this difference must be called out and eliminated through the persistent challenge to be better.  As a society, we must hold those who abuse their position of power and authority to account.

We are all going through so much at this time. It often seems unbelievable and unfair and discouraging. We see friends and family struggling, trying to stay well, and some do not survive. Many of our community are alone, without family nearby. There is persistent anxiety over whether we will be ill, whether we will have resources, and whether things will ever be normal again.  And, as if COVID and those difficulties are not enough, we are also coming face to face…again…with the evil that is racism and the devastating bias against black men and women. Another black citizen, George Floyd, has had his life taken by what seems to be targeted and specific violence by those who are called to serve our citizenry.  In recent weeks we've mourned as similar events took the lives of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, amongst others.  As a nation, we are not loving each other. It does not seem that we are looking for ways to connect.  We must do better.

I do not have all of the answers. I do not know what our nation needs to bring us together. I do not always know what to say or how to take action. My continued response is to stay informed, to check my own actions and communications, to be a resource, and to take a stand as an anti-racist. The board of trustees of Bastyr University has clearly stated they want the school to continue a proactive stance to diminish bias and to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion through every aspect of Bastyr. It is our privilege to be led in this work by Kortet Mensah, PhD, our Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. We are not anywhere close to being done, but we have begun proactively changing our approach to equity.  I am proud of what the university community has achieved thus far. Our last series of DEI conversations, designed to discuss self and community care in light of the pandemic and recent social unrest, was filled (with waitlists) as soon as registration opened. The response by the university community is moving in the right direction, but we still have significant work ahead. 

My heart is broken up by what I see in the media regarding the tragic death of Mr. Floyd. My heart is saddened by the grief and anger that drives our community members to protest. My heart is further broken by the groups that seem to latch onto peaceful protests and wreak havoc not intended by the protest leaders. As is often the case, the violence of a small number of people overwhelms the public comment and images.  Which violence is worse is the question?  The answer is that all violence is wrong.  We cannot let the violence around the protests distract us from the real challenge of confronting racist beliefs and actions in our justice system.

As the world's leading academic center for advancing and integrating knowledge in the natural health arts and sciences, Bastyr University will transform the health and well-being of the human community.  Community health will be genuinely achieved only after we are able to eliminate racism from our community systems.

We are all in a challenging time, and for many of our community, this is not something new. Each day, they face challenges their white counterparts do not. I encourage everyone to continue hearing each other and learning from each other. Be a resource to others at Bastyr and beyond. And, consider with it means to be biased. Understand how to be transparent with yourself and others around our racist behaviors and unintended thoughts and actions. We can only be together in our common desire to transform the health and well-being of the human community if we do this.

We have been working together on improving our DEI climate and are making progress.  Dr. Mensah will be sending out communication with an update on our efforts and accomplishments.  We are making progress and yet have a great deal of work to do.  

In the near term, we do have resources available.  Reach out and check in with your peers and friends to see how they are doing and if they need anything.  My hope for you this week is that you can take time to care for yourself and reach out to a friend who may be suffering. I encourage us all to continue doing our part – whether as a student, a staff member, or a faculty member – to enrich our shared experience as we strive toward the joint vision of educating leaders who will transform the well-being of the human condition.  As a part of our on-going efforts to support our community, we have just completed a 3-week series relating to self-care in this stressful time.  ALANA meetings for our students of color are occurring this week as well.  For our faculty and staff, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has counselors available 24/7 for support; information available at this link.

 

Humbly, and desirous of change,

Harlan Patterson 
President