Hey, cool students!

I’m Kathryn Stockton — Dean for the School of Cultural and Social Transformation.

I hope you feel the joy I can’t help but exude. You’re back! We’re gonna be together. Somewhat in person, mostly online, but the point is we’re gonna be thinking together again. We’ll be engaging each other. We will be plotting and planning action.

In our last address to you, in a format like this, it was last spring — April. The pandemic had really just begun. We were already missing you like crazy, which was why I reached out to you. I think I remember saying that — something along the lines of — “the virus has revealed what we know to be true.”

Sad to say, we were not surprised that racial inequality and income inequality have produced disproportionate health disparities for communities of color. We have seen that with Navajo Nation and other indigenous groups in our state. We have seen that now for Black communities, Latinx communities, immigrant communities. We were not surprised, but we were deeply saddened, about new outbreaks of anti-Asian racism. Again, we knew these things to be true. And the virus has revealed what we know to be true.

But something else has happened since I last addressed you. Our country has embarked on what we can only hope can become a true, massive, racial reckoning. The murder of George Floyd by police has felt for so many like a culminating moment. Of course there have been so many people before him. We’ve talked about such folks. There have been people after him. So many people now in this country can name their names.

George Floyd

Sandra Bland

Brianna Taylor

Ahmaud Arbery

Rayshard Brooks

and the list goes on.

There is no time — so sorry to say — to be able to list all the names that we know in our hearts and that we can repeat. And then, there’s so many people whose names we don’t even know. People from Indigenous, Black and Brown communities who have lost their lives, not just for racist violence, but to racist policies.

Slow death is taking place all around us. We talk about that. We teach that.

And let’s be clear, something that we know very much in our hearts, this is the moment when we’re feeling great amount of fatigue. And I can only say that our beloved colleague Dr. William Smith, who has spent his career forging, researching, teaching the concept of racial battle fatigue, has given us a phrase for it. I don’t know a phrase more fitting for this moment and what we feel.

In fact, as you may know, I wrote a letter to you called, “Heartbreak and Reckoning.” Just as the country was embarking upon this moment after George Floyd’s murder. And I wanted to convey to you at that moment our collective heartbreak in Transform and to say that we had reached an unbearable point of breaking. It feels that this unbearableness will remain with us. And indeed we will not let it go! We are not going to let our anger go! It is righteous anger, and we continue to feel it strongly. It is urgent. It was urgent before George Floyd’s murder, and it evermore urgent now.

It is also the case — and it needs to be said — we do not feel this all the same. We may feel a sense of urgency. But it is Black friends, Black staff, Black students, Black faculty who feel the force and pain of anti-Blackness in a way that cannot be felt unless you have the experience of being Black in this country.

That is something we will have to reckon with.

The other thing I want to say so strongly is we in Transform will never reduce communities of color to their suffering. We will never be caught out in that particular thought. And our wonderful colleague. Dr. Darius Bost is constantly teaching and writing on creative expressions of Black existence. That is that threat of joy that cannot be lost, and I think we know it is not odd to carry anger and joy in the same heart. It is what we do. It is what pushes us on.

So let me do express some joyful things that will be taking place in the School for Cultural and Social Transformation in the coming years.

One thing that was a great priority before the pandemic, before George Floyd, was expanding Black studies in our school. We will be doing a search for a new colleague in the fall of 2021, and we couldn’t be more excited.

This new colleague will be jointly appointed in Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies, and it will help us to start building out as we are — our connections to other colleagues on this campus doing African American studies — to come together in thought and collectivity, to share strength and to share joy.

A second thing that is happening this very semester — very happy making — is the launch of our new certificate in Pacific Islands Studies. Please think of taking this new certificate. It’s available to you. Can’t wait to see how it unfolds!

The third thing will be fostering and nurturing Disability Studies. We are so proud and so happy to be the new home for relaunching Disability Studies on this campus. We have remarkable colleagues doing work, and indeed, I believe our minors have already doubled in a very short time.

A fourth thing — a little too early to say but I’m very hopeful — I think it’s possible that our campus may come together around a grand challenge, or call it what you will, to come together to think about environmental anti-racism. I’ve had some wonderful conversations with the Dean of the College of Science, the Dean of the College of Mines and Earth Science. I believe in the College of Social and Behavioral Science, and the College of Education, and, very profoundly, the College of Humanities — where they’ve just received a new MellonGrant for environmental humanities. I think we’ll have partners all across this campus. These are the two big issues of our time: our environment/climate change, on the one hand, and of course, racism on the other. Environmental anti-racism weds them because we know they go together. Very sadly, environmental racism is one of the reigning issues of our time.

We are going to come together to bring in community partners. There are so many incredible people in the community during activism, so many community researchers who have the type of wisdom and knowledge we need here at the U. I think these partnerships are ready to be forged, so look for that coming your way.

But again, at heart, in many ways this message is to say: a reunion with you matters all the world to us. If you encounter me, you will feel this joy. And we thank you for coming back! We don’t take it lightly, and we’re ready to embrace your presence here.

Get ready to think with us.

We’re ready to think with you.