Perhaps the history that explains the Racial Justice Committee should go back to 1619, when the first Africans were brought to the colony of Virginia and the long, ugly saga of racism in what would become the United States began. It is worth noting that the issues we currently face are deeply anchored in our country’s history and will not be changed without consistent, long-term effort.
The more immediate history leading to the formation of the Racial Justice Committee began in a context of increasing racial inequity in the United States in the summer of 2020. The racial wealth gap increased between 2010 and 2016 by 29%; White Americans had 6.5 times the wealth of African Americans in 2016. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the unemployment rate in the United States increased – but more African Americans (16.7%) than Whites (14.2%) are unemployed. Because of underlying inequities in healthcare, African Americans are also three times more likely to contract COVID than Whites and more likely to die, if infected.
Within that context, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd became flashpoints of racial rage. Although these deaths join the long line of senseless killings of Black men and women in the United States, these three in succession caused the nation to rise up and demand justice and equity in its treatment of Black people with an intensity not seen since the Civil Rights Movement. Knowing that Le Moyne is not immune from the racial injustice endemic to US society, President Le Mura responded. She arranged for four forums, during which the Le Moyne community past and present shared their pain, disappointments, and anger at the continuing racial inequities and institutionalized white privilege at Le Moyne.
After the forums, President LeMura promised action on racial justice to the Le Moyne Community:
We often use the phrase “student body” when we refer to the student population. As a Jesuit institution, this must be more than simply a figure of speech. As we learn from St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness.” As a Christian community, inspired by the teachings of St. Ignatius, we declare that “Black Lives Matter,” that so long as people of color on this campus suffer injustice, the entire community is compromised; so long as the world beyond Le Moyne is in anguish, we are called to minister to it. We will work harder to teach the next generation of students – whether they become health care professionals or educators or entrepreneurs or public servants – to nurture community, in the words of St. Ignatius, “not just in words, but in deeds.”
Her promise echoes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” The coming together of the great civil rights leader’s philosophy and our Ignatian heritage is no surprise. Social justice is at the center of what we aim to be and to do at Le Moyne.
To fulfill her promise, President LeMura called together a Racial Justice Committee (RJC) to develop concrete, actionable plans to address racial injustice in our Le Moyne community. The forty-two-member committee includes administrators, faculty, staff, students, and alumni. It is made up of six working subcommittees addressing the many issues raised in the forums.
In response to those issues and based on the long history of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous violence, the RJC situates its antiracism efforts on anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. The term Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) was chosen as an umbrella term to create a unifying front for the work the RJC has been charged to do. The RJC acknowledges that umbrella terms do not always encompass the breadth of the diversity inherent in the term “people of color” and that some people of color do not identify with the label, however, umbrella terms are simply organizing tools, often necessary to propel a movement forward and create a common language.