Dear Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) of Longwood University:
I remember in my doctoral program when I first read Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack. I was certainly aware of my whiteness prior, but this ushered in a new wave of understanding; that I had been unknowingly contributing to a system that oppressed people around me, including some of my friends and students in my doctoral program. This was a pivotal experience in my life. It opened the door for deeper reflection into my own biases and behaviors and anchored my professional identity as a counseling psychologist in social justice and multicultural humility.
But because I am white, my privilege has allowed me to be a bystander over the past few years as more innocent, unarmed people of color were killed. My privilege has allowed me to listen to the stories on the news and express my outrage and frustration, thinking that’s enough. However, I have finally realized that it isn’t enough. I know that sounds like a flippant statement, but it’s pervasive in white communities. A lot of well-intentioned white friends of mine, some of whom have a better understanding of racism than the average person, did the same thing I was doing: express outrage on social media, have conversations amongst themselves (which typically excludes voices of color), vote for candidates who support anti-racist measures, and do nothing more. White outrage online after a person of color is killed has now become synonymous with “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting; these words, while well-intentioned in most cases, are not enough.
Aside from the obvious impact that Farmville has experienced with the birth of civil rights and efforts to desegregate, members of the Longwood community are in a unique position to have these difficult conversations because of our foundation which is built upon citizen leadership. Civil discourse has remained an important component of communication on campus, but similar to my experience with friends expressing frustration and nothing more, we need to be citizen leaders and take action.
Personally and professionally, I have been trying to figure out how to show my support for students of color because I do not wish to turn the conversation toward myself. White guilt continues to take the focus away from BIPOC and I do not want to feed that narrative. Instead, I am learning about ways to honor and lift the voices of BIPOC, which starts with listening, truly listening, to what’s being said. What I heard was that the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain BIPOC experience on a daily basis has only been further exacerbated as a result of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. The impact especially on Black/African American communities is undeniable and a humanitarian concern. And I finally heard that BIPOC are tired of white people asking them how to help, rather, we should be taking initiative to develop a better understanding of their lived experiences and offering to be part of the solution. So to all people of color at Longwood University, I offer you this:
- CAPS is actively practicing anti-racism and cultural humility, and we promise to continue making those values a priority at our center.
- CAPS has been a place that is safe for you, and we promise to do better in reinforcing that notion.
- CAPS will develop more intentional collaboration with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and student clubs/orgs, in order to become a better resource for students of color.
- CAPS remains committed to educating ourselves on the lived experiences of BIPOC.
- CAPS plans to continue this conversation, so we are adding a section to our blog dedicated to Anti-Racism.
Additionally, I want to emphasize that while we present you with our team action plan, the power remains yours. We aim to lift your voices and offer resources that are helpful, but your needs will always determine our path forward.
The burden has fallen on the shoulders of people of color for too long, and it is time for white allies to step up and engage in action to protect the well-being of those around us.
Yours in citizen leadership,
Dr. Retallick, Dr. Walls-McKay, Dr. Davino, Dr. Wilkins