Dear President Nemec,
As faculty in the School of Education and Human Development, we are frustrated and disturbed by issues raised in articles recently published in The Fairfield Mirror: “Minority Voices at Fairfield Want to Be Heard” (Feb. 2, 2022) and “Black Lives Matter Flag Removed by Administration” (Feb. 23, 2022). More troubling is that these issues are part of a pattern of decisions and embarrassingly tepid responses that reveal insensitivity and a lack of leadership. We stand in agreement with faculty across Fairfield University who condemn the actions of our current administration as published by Dave Crawford of the Faculty Wellness Committee on Feb. 24th.
As educators, social workers, marriage and family therapists, counselors and school psychologists, we lock arms in solidarity with those who have been and are currently marginalized by a pervasive system of racism. We proudly support the Black Lives Matter movement and consider the removal of the Black Lives Matter flag a trauma to our Black students and colleagues, to our campus community, and to the broader communities we serve. The censoring of the Black Lives Matter message signals a failure of inclusive excellence by the leadership at Fairfield University.
We remind the institution that we are still in the midst of two pandemics. That of COVID-19, which the University has taken numerous mitigation strategies to ensure a safe campus for learning, and that of racism and anti-Black racism, in particular. We call on the institution to take up the work of fighting for racial justice and against anti-Black racism with the same rigor and level of priority as it has shown COVID-19.
The removal of the Black Lives Matter flag triggered yet another crisis in our campus community, traumatizing students and faculty alike. One student described a classmate as “curled up in a fetal ball.” The first step in responding to a crisis is to affirm physical and psychological safety. As SEHD faculty, we are addressing the crisis with our students in various ways. However, a faculty response is not enough. Students–and faculty–have yet to hear an affirmation of safety from you, President Nemec. Your silence is continuing the trauma and causing harm. Do no harm is a universal ethical principle held across our disciplines. The lack of a response is simply unethical.
The removal of the Black Lives Matter flag also goes against the values of all of the professions represented in Fairfield’s School of Education and Human Development. This action is in direct opposition to the statements of our respective professional organizations expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and condemnation of racial violence:
Our professional organizations have spoken out clearly and consistently against racial injustice; why hasn’t Fairfield? In fact, our accrediting bodies require us to demonstrate our commitment to diversity in every aspect of our work.
More alarming, the ongoing silencing and censoring of speech and language around “Black Lives Matter,” “anti-racism” and “equity” is out of step with our Jesuit values and those promoted by our colleagues at other Jesuit institutions of higher education. A visit to the websites of our peer institutions makes clear their commitments to anti-racism, BLM and racial equity. Why is Fairfield an outlier?
Throughout many years, especially the past few, we have seen the actions of our campus leaders operating in opposition to what they claim Fairfield University to be. There is richness, strength and knowledge that comes from heterogeneity, and Fairfield University is shamefully unrepresentative of the United States of America. At a time when the U.S. population is growing more diverse and dynamic every day, the administration at Fairfield University seems to want to keep our campus homogeneous, exclusive, unwelcoming and for some, unsafe.
As faculty, we refuse to tolerate the violation and traumatization of any individual and stand with voices across Fairfield University who speak out for the value of Black Lives, locally, nationally and globally. We support the demands made by the Fairfield Alumni Response Team and make the following additional requests of you, President Nemec:
- Rehang the Black Lives Matter flag at the Office of Counseling and Psychological Services and hang additional BLM flags in other prominent locations on campus;
- Articulate a clear and unequivocal statement of support for the BLM movement; articulate your definition of inclusivity and diversity and justify your actions in relation to these definitions;
- Release a statement immediately to the campus community stating your commitment to and reaffirmation of safety for all members of the Fairfield community;
- Support Fairfield University schools, departments and programs to publicize their commitments to equity, anti-racism and Black Lives Matter without censoring their language;
- Host monthly forums to discuss issues of equity, diversity and inclusion at Fairfield, with sessions expressly between the President and students, faculty and staff of color;
- Hire a Chief Diversity Officer.
Ibram X. Kendi (2019) writes that the heartbeat of antiracism is self-reflection, recognition, admission and, fundamentally, self-critique. Racism is institutional, but it doesn’t have to be. Leadership can commit to and embody the values of Jesuit ideals and antiracism, which go hand in hand.
Dr. Kimberly Barba (Assistant Professor, Mathematics and Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation), Dr. Julie Berrett-Abebe (Assistant Professor, Social Work), Dr. Evelyn Bilias-Lolis (Associate Professor, Psychology and Special Education), Dr. Anne E. Campbell (Associate Professor, TESOL, World Language, and Bilingual Education), Dr. Ryan Colwell (Associate Professor, Elementary Education), Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall (Director, CWP-Fairfield and Associate Professor of English Education), Dawn Q. DeBiase (LCSW Director, Social Work), Dr. Joshua C. Elliott (Assistant Professor of the Practice), Dr. Nicole Fletcher (Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation), Dr. Paula Gill Lopez (Associate Professor, School Psychology), Bob Hannafin (Professor, Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation), Dr. Erica Hartwell (Associate Professor, Marriage and Family Therapy), Ms. Maryann LaBella (Clinical Director, Marriage and Family Therapy), Dr. Alyson M. Martin (Associate Professor, Special Education), Dr. Stephaney S. Morrison (Associate Dean and Associate Professor, Counselor Education), Dr. Jocelyn Novella (Assistant Professor, Counselor Education), Dr. Nicole O’Brien (Associate Professor, Marriage and Family Therapy), Dr. Pierre Orelus (Associate Professor and Director of the Teaching and Foundations Program), Dr. Yeddi Park (Assistant Professor, Social Work), Dr. Dilani Perera (Professor, Counselor Education), Dr. Rona Preli (Associate Professor, Marriage and Family Therapy), Dr. Michael Regan (Associate Professor of the Practice, School Psychology), Dr. Tracey Robert (Professor, Counselor Education), Dr. Emily R. Shamash (Assistant Professor, Special Education), Dr. Emily Smith (Professor, English Education), Dr. LaTasha Smith (Assistant Professor, Social Work), Dr. Stephanie Storms (Associate Dean and Associate Professor, Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation), Jay Taylor (LCSW Clinical Director, Social Work), Laura Whitacre (Director of Educator Preparation)