Message from the President
By Suzanne M. Johnson, June 3, 2020
Editor's Note: Below is a message from Dr. Suzanne Johnson, President of Green River College, sent to Faculty and Staff on Monday, June 1, 2020.
Dear Green River College Community -
Prior to last Monday, we were facing the greatest economic crisis in modern times, one that makes the 2008 recession and the 1929 market collapse and onset of the great depression look manageable. Prior to last Monday, we were in the midst of a global pandemic that has claimed over 100,000 lives in our country, and has altered any sense of normal functioning in our personal and professional lives. We are still facing these realities today. But last Monday, this country witnessed, again, the death of a man of color, George Floyd, at the hands of police.
The grief is immeasurable. The anger is immeasurable. As a white person, I know the distressing thoughts, feelings, and heartache these events cause in me. HOWEVER, I can only imagine what these events do to our colleagues and friends of color. This is their daily lived experience. My colleagues and friends of color have shared with me their experiences of what it means to be black or brown in our country. What it means to fear for their lives, and their sons’ and husbands’ lives. The exhaustion our colleagues and friends of color are experiencing as a result of Mr. Floyd’s death needs to be acknowledged.
For our colleagues of color at Green River, it is not your responsibility to tell those of us who are white what to do as a result of George Floyd’s death or to explain to us how you feel. This is not your responsibility. I ask all of us at this college who are white to watch this brief video from Jane Elliot that was recorded in 2016 and another short video recorded in 2017. You may get interested in watching some other videos of hers. I encourage you to do so because her discussion of the impact of prejudice and discrimination on a person’s ability to learn is illuminating.
In moments of tragedy, the expectation for a president is to write a note to the college acknowledging the event and to offer words of comfort and inspiration for moving forward. The expectation is to remind the college of our commitment to serving diverse communities and that we, above all other institutions of higher learning, provide access to education for all, especially those who have been marginalized and underserved. I am really struggling with this, because this is not enough. It has never been enough. There are no words that can adequately express or address what has unfolded over the past countless years in our country, let alone this past week.
Words are not unimportant, though, and they do mean something – however inadequate they may be to a situation. Green River, we have made progress over the past few years as we have prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion, but much more is needed. It is actions and thoughtful analysis and planning that will change historical practices and systems of injustice. What do actions look like at our college? We must examine our processes and policies that have been handed down across generations and centuries within higher education – a system that was created to exclude individuals and sustain a culture steeped in inequalities and inequities. It is time to increase our focus on this work. The imperative of this work is very clear. I have shared with you countless times the quote from Nelson Mandela that motivates me each day: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. We must do this work together. No matter our points of reference or lived experiences, we are all members of Green River College.
There also needs to be space and time for our community to process feelings, experiences, and impacts that George Floyd’s death has had. I am calling upon Green River to create spaces and opportunities for these conversations to occur. We must do this for those who work here and for those who study here. I understand that our faculty are already organizing discussion opportunities this week. I will be reaching out to GDEC and the office of ODEI to support their interest in organizing meetings where students of color and staff of color can come together to support each other through this most recent tragedy. I must listen to all of you to know what you need to process in the short term and to support actions moving forward for the long term.
We can and will get through today and tomorrow. We can and will get through this term and summer. We can and will get through whatever financial challenges this college will face in the next year or more. As we move forward together I ask you all: What will our college’s future be?
Stay well and be in community…… Suzanne