The Black Lives Matter mural at Eastern Mennonite University in front of University Commons was unveiled in September 2020. The project was initiated and facilitated by EMU’s Black Student Alliance, with collaboration from other student groups on campus. (Photo by Rachel Holderman)

EMU After the Verdict: Where We Go From Here

On Tuesday evening, just a short time after the verdict was announced, I sent a message  to our campus community. I named the value of a cathartic, collective exhale on the swift verdict, and our shared witness around a faith-informed justice on the occasion of this historic moment. Indeed, the trial was a long-awaited step towards repair in our country’s long and awful legacy of racialized violence. 

I also expressed support of deep listening and bold collaborative action: We especially surround our BIPOC students, faculty and staff tonight with care and compassion. We commit ourselves to continuing to hear their voices, to stand with them, and to do the hard and necessary work to extend the movement to expand racial justice and equity in our nation, our community, and on our own campus. We will work together to make our community of learners more and more fair and equitable inside and outside the classroom. 

The Black Lives Matter movement has taught me many things. Saying the names of our black citizens senselessly killed or injured at a shockingly disproportionate rate at the hands of law enforcement is a powerful reminder of my own white privilege. And so again I say his name: George Perry Floyd Junior, to remind myself this is not an ending at all.

As educators, we still have much work to do. Here is a brief summary of some tangible steps our university has taken recently on issues of racial and social justice, with special attention to diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels of our community of learning:

  • Diversity objectives are featured in the President’s Annual Report and EMU’s 2020-25 Strategic Plan.
  • A new fund to support DEI training and related initiatives benefited from nearly $93,763 in current and pledged donor support this spring.
  •  EMU’s Board of Trustees is led by Manuel A. Nuñez, professor and faculty director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Villanova Business School. The board remains deeply committed in specific ways to diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes in learning objectives, campus climate, and representation.  
  • More than 10 newly established endowed scholarships and direct grants to increase access and opportunities for BIPOC undergraduate and graduate students have been cultivated just this year.
  • We continue supporting, building relationships, listening to and learning from leaders of our student organizations, including Black Student Alliance, Latino Student Alliance, International Student Organization, SafeSpace, and the newly established Asian Pacific Islander Student Association.

And finally, we are delighted with an important addition to our team: Dr. Jacqueline N. Font-Guzmán. She started as our executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion just a few weeks ago, and has already made connections with our Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, and among our student groups and their leaders. We look forward to her leadership as we make our actions toward racial and social justice more concrete. 

Below, Dr. Font-Guzmán shares a short reflection on the verdict. Continue on to read reflections from our student leaders, and leaders of Eastern Mennonite Seminary and the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. 

No one person can enact the kind of dramatic change our schools, communities, and country needs. We must listen together and lead together. Each member of our university has a contribution to make. We welcome your support and your prayers on the journey ahead.

From Dr. Jacqueline N. Font-Guzmán, executive director of diversity, equity, and inclusion

The murder conviction in the case of Mr. George Perry Floyd Jr. has been unprecedented in many ways. It is a rare event in the history of the United States that a White policeman is found guilty of murdering a Black man. 

At the personal level, I have mixed feelings about the verdict. Although I felt encouraged by it because it held the perpetrator accountable, justice did not triumph. True justice requires giving each person their due. Mr. Floyd should be alive today. 

And yet, I do not despair. I am hopeful that this verdict can move us to take the needed crucial steps towards transforming – and when necessary – dismantling the systems that allow for this violence to continue. There is no better act of subversion than building relationships and communities. This verdict was possible thanks to all the organizers, peaceful protesters, students, and people willing to – as John Lewis said– “Get in trouble, good trouble.”

Here at EMU, we are committed to peace, social justice, and community. We will continue to work together with love and compassion to create an environment where everyone can be their true selves, belong, and be safe. 

A joint statement from two leaders of the Student Government and Black Student Alliance

Ma’Khia could have been any of us. In the span of two hours, our collective conversation had shifted from a tense relief that Derek Chauvin had been found guilty in the murder of George Floyd, to the overwhelming grief and anger that we know so intimately. 

After George Floyd’s murder this summer, the Student Government Association sent an email affirming protests and demonstrations being carried out in the name of justice. We also named that many of our clubs that serve as affinity groups for marginalized voices unfairly bear the burden of providing programming aimed at educating our broader campus community. Weeks later, the Black Student Alliance presented a list of demands, calling our campus community to live more fully into our self-proclaimed values of justice and peace. 

Now, after the verdict has been read, we as student leaders continue to commit ourselves to standing alongside those who fiercely speak truth to power, uprooting systems which cause harm, including those within our university. We will rage until LGBTQ+ communities feel safe, until ICE is abolished and the prison industrial complex is destroyed, until families are no longer torn apart on the border, and the ongoing Indigenous genocide is stopped.

We know that there is much work to be done. We envision a community that rejects notions of scarcity,  where justice is abundant and freedom is genuine. This is a vision that EMU says it shares, and so we call EMU to answer, to act: 

To create and hold spaces for BIPOC students, faculty and staff. To offer tangible support through meals and offer extensions on deadlines. To compensate the unpaid labor of those who have consistently borne the brunt of liberation work within EMU. To show up for your students in the classroom, at our events, in this nation and this world. Show up for your marginalized  students in the ways we’ve been asking of you. This is how we live into our mission. 

Anisa Leonard, co-president of Student Government Association; Maya Dula, secretary and past co-president of Black Student Alliance

Eastern Mennonite Seminary

In the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, we believe that the mutual flourishing of relationships is essential for faith. We belong to one another as members of the human family. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the body of Christ, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). When one person, family and community suffers injustice, the harm impacts us all. 

A verdict from our national justice system may provide some clarity, but that alone cannot restore human dignity and wholeness. We commit fully and collectively to this restorative work: to practicing justice in compassionate relationships as a learning community and in the communities in which we participate throughout the world.

Learning how, within our own faith communities and our university community, we can truly resist the systemic racism made so visible in this moment impels us to deeper prayer and richer action. We thank God for leaders in many communities of color in the United States, and some of our own community members, who have long modeled the discipleship of work for justice.

Dr. Sue Cockley, dean; Dr. Nancy Heisey, associate dean; Rev. Dr. Sarah Bixler, incoming associate dean.

The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding

The United States was built on a mixed message – all men are created equal and only white men who own property count as full citizens. The territory of the United States was created through displacement, genocide, and war against indigenous peoples and a neighboring country, Mexico. Wealth was amassed by white men who exploited enslaved peoples from Africa and violently suppressed attempts to organize for labor rights. As a country, we have struggled with these tensions since our founding. Our history cannot be ignored in our move toward a different future.

Rooting out and transforming the original sin built into the United States is a long, hard, slow process and once again we are being challenged. Do we settle for order masquerading as peace or do we demand justice that supports authentic peace, healing, and equity? As the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, we have answered that question. Now, we must actualize it in our current context. As a predominantly white institution, this work is deeply personal for each of us and for CJP and EMU as organizations. Thankfully, the jury in Minnesota has held Derek Chauvin accountable for his actions. Let us continue our work to grow justice with humility and integrity. That means listening to and following leaders who have experienced the violence and injustices of our current systems.  

Dr. Jayne Docherty, executive director