President Byerly outlines actions Lafayette College will take as the first steps in an ongoing process of education and improvement
To the Lafayette Community:
At Lafayette College, we associate the name of Lafayette with the ideals the Marquis stood for: liberty, democracy, and equality. We take pride in the fact that Lafayette was deeply committed to the cause of abolition in America, and to promoting the rights of citizens in France.
It was thus especially horrifying to see Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.—dedicated in the same year that the citizens of Easton, Pa. decided to honor the visiting General by naming their proposed college “Lafayette”—become the scene last week of an extraordinary attack on peaceful citizens who gathered to protest police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. As Aurélia Aubert and Lorna Bracewell noted in the Washington Post, nothing could be farther from the ideals and legacy of Lafayette than the use of flash grenades and pepper balls to drive back protesters seeking to affirm that Black lives matter.
At a time when justice demands institutional accountability on all levels, it is appropriate to consider whether Lafayette College has always lived up to its own ideals. Members of our community have asked where we stand in the struggle to combat systemic racism and in efforts to address racism on our own campus. In particular, the examples of police violence seen across the country have raised questions about the work of our own Department of Public Safety, our relationship with the Easton Police Department, and the steps we take to counter racial bias among officers who interact with our students. I thank all those who have sent letters or signed a petition on this topic, and appreciate their concern for the safety and well-being of our students and community.
For Lafayette, as for the nation as a whole, it is a time to look ourselves in the mirror and challenge ourselves to do more.
That conversation may begin, but should not end, with a look at our public safety operations. Lafayette’s Department of Public Safety, which includes full-time commissioned officers, part-time commissioned officers, and several security officers, has participated in training on implicit bias, as well as annual training on de-escalation techniques, with two of our officers certified as trainers in de-escalation. Our Department of Public Safety is on occasion assisted by the Easton Police Department in investigations of major crimes, and the Easton Police Department also helps to provide security and crowd control for large campus events. The Easton Police Department, along with the FBI, were integral players in the successful investigation into the social media bomb threat hoax of two years ago.
Recognizing the current level of community interest and concern, both Lafayette Department of Public Safety Director Jeff Troxell and Easton Police Department Chief Carl Scalzo have expressed their eagerness to engage students and others in discussions about how to build confidence and trust in the community they serve.
I believe such dialogue will be most effective if it takes place in the context of a broader community commitment to institutional self-examination. At moments like this, many institutions describe themselves as “not immune from racism.” If we have learned one thing from this pandemic, it is that if you do not have immunity, you must take concrete, systematic steps to repel contagion. If we want a Lafayette that is free from the virus of racism, we need programs and policies that are actively anti-racist.
With that in mind, we are committing to the actions below as the first steps in an ongoing process of education and improvement. We will:
In addition, we will work to enhance the programming on issues of racial injustice currently offered through the Office of Intercultural Development in collaboration with a number of student organizations.
Our community is not confronting these issues for the first time. Lafayette has a long history of activism on issues of race. Last spring, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of ABC, the Association of Black Collegians, at a McDonogh Network event where many alumni shared stories about the personal struggles with racism at Lafayette that led to the founding of ABC, the establishment of the Portlock Black Cultural Center, and other efforts to support Black students, faculty, and staff.
As we have recruited an increasingly diverse student body, students have shared testimonies about racism on campus, and talked about strategies and solutions, in student organizations dedicated to marginalized groups, in Posse Plus Retreats, and through events offered in partnership with the Office of Intercultural Development. In 2016, nationwide and campus protests led to a series of student recommendations to combat racism and inequality that included the creation of the student Equity, Transformation, and Accountability Board. Faculty and administrators on the College’s Diversity Committee and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council have worked to develop proactive programs of student and community support.
At the curricular level, we have in recent years added courses in multiple disciplines and learning outcomes for all students that address aspects of diversity, inclusion, and social justice; offered inclusive teaching programs through the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship; and created a strategic hiring initiative that has recruited a number of new faculty from underrepresented populations to Lafayette. We will continue to expand these efforts to infuse inclusive pedagogy and subject matter into the curriculum, recognizing that our own institution is also a legitimate object of critical interrogation.
Looking ahead to a fall semester that as a result of COVID-19 may present unique challenges to our ability to function as a community, it will be especially important that we enter into that environment from a place of trust in, and respect for, each other. We will work diligently throughout the summer to create dialogue that advances those goals.
To help begin that conversation, the DEI Council and the Office of Intercultural Development will sponsor a Town Hall meeting on Thursday, June 11 titled A Community Conversation About Racial Injustice. Additional programs are in development through OID, Africana Studies, and other departments and organizations. I hope that many members of the community will join these programs to share your experiences, insights, and concerns.
In this difficult moment, we will all find different ways to express our anger and show our support. Strengthening Lafayette College is one place to start. Thank you all for your commitment to our students and community.
President Alison Byerly