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President's Message on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

A Message from  President Kathleen Owens - July 6, 2020

Warmest greetings to all members of the Misericordia University community:  students and alumni, staff and faculty, trustees and friends.  I am honored to serve as your President for the year to come.

 As I join this community, I am conscious that we are at a critical moment in our nation’s long history of racial inequality.  George Floyd’s murder has awoken something in America, causing both anguish and anger to race to the surface.  

I cannot help but compare this summer’s protests--both peaceful and violent--with what happened after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.  I was a first-year biology teacher in a predominantly Black high school on the south side of Chicago then. When the protests reached our neighborhood, a rock shattered the window of my laboratory classroom, followed by a (fortunately ineffective) Molotov cocktail; I gathered my students into a storage vault until the danger passed.

Thinking back on that experience, I am struck by how little has changed--and how much.  On the one hand, the fact that such harsh inequities still exist in our society--more than half a century later--is profoundly disheartening.  And yet, I am moved to hope as I see the multiracial character of today’s protesters. This is not what it looked like in 1968. Something has shifted in America.  Progress, though excruciatingly slow, has been made, and young people have been at the forefront of change. I believe that American higher education has contributed to that awakening, and will continue to be an essential factor in moving us from where we are to where we need to be.

Here at Misericordia, the best gift we can bring to this moment is our charism of Mercy.  I am moved by Sister Marilyn Lacey’s description in her memoir, This Flowing Toward Me: A Story of God Arriving in Strangers.  Mercy is “nothing more and nothing less than responding in practical ways to needs that are known.”  Because we are a university grounded in Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy--which include recognizing and dismantling institutional racism--the issues raised by Black Lives Matter demand our practical response.  And yet, how much do the white president and administrators of a largely white university really know about the needs of the Black members of our community?  It would be arrogant to assume we know enough.  Our response must begin with a significant commitment to listening that leads to real action.

In the weeks to come, I will be working with my Cabinet and with representative members of our community to envision our next steps. The work ahead will not be easy, but I have the audacity to hope that, together, we can move closer to Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.  I invite each of you to join me in making that hope a reality.