Lee News

An Open Letter from President Conn to the Lee Community on Current Racial Tensions in Our Country

 

Few things have shocked and sobered Americans like the video of George Floyd, dying on the pavement of a Minneapolis street, with a police officer’s knee on his neck.

That tragedy came so soon after the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in a quiet residential neighborhood in Georgia, and in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic in which black Americans have been twice as likely to be among the 100,000 fatalities as their white counterparts.
Something about all these events offers such powerful converging evidence that a deep, multi-layered racial divide still lies intractably within the American experience. We have known that is true, but for typical white Americans like me, it can be too easy to become complacent about what a toxic and deadly force racism remains within our society. Something about the way George Floyd died has punctured that complacency for many of us, as it should. It shows us that we still have so far to go to create a racially just nation, and that we need to move the problem of racial equality up in our ordering of personal and institutional priorities.

Dr. Paul Conn
Dr. Paul Conn
Lee University must be a place that leads all our students in that effort. We talk about changing the world, and this is part of our world that desperately needs to be changed. We talk about acting out the love of Christ in society, and can we doubt that the heart of God is broken by all those forces which oppress and damage His children?

Our goal for many years has been to make Lee a place where students of all races and ethnic backgrounds will thrive; and to a certain degree, we have succeeded. The problem is not that we tolerate overt forms of prejudice on our campus; we don’t. And certainly there are many students and staff of color who have found Lee to be a place where they can flourish, personally and professionally. It’s true that we have come a long way from the 1950’s and ‘60’s, when Lee College reflected the unexamined racial attitudes of its Deep South roots.

But it’s possible to allow our progress to numb us to the many ways we still fall short of what God wants us to be. While Lee does not embrace racist policies, we are part of a broad racial fabric which is deeply damaging to tens of millions of our brothers and sisters in the human family, and we have a responsibility for that larger societal reality. God’s heart is grieved by it, and ours must be too. We live in a nation which for 150 years since the end of slavery, despite our progress, still somehow fails to deliver the hope and protections to people of color that those of us in the majority take so easily for granted.

We live in that national environment, and we need to accept responsibility for it. Racism can be so subtle and pervasive that we hardly recognize it exists. That’s why a sickening event like the graphic death of George Floyd is such a wake-up call. It reminds us how urgent it is for those of us at mostly-white places like Lee to find ways to listen better to our minority students, staff, and neighbors. We can’t be satisfied with the racial status quo, not in our American society and not at Lee.

We pray for the family and friends of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and for all the victims of violence whose names we don’t know. And we pray for wisdom and insight to better understand the special burden of our African-American students, staff, and alumni. And we pray that we may know how to make Lee University a place where this effort is part of the campus dialogue, part of the spirit of Christ among us, part of the healing of our land.
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