Virginia’s Community College Presidents speak out for social justice

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In the wake of recent events that have shaken the nation, many of our VCCS college presidents have reached out to their students, faculty, staff and greater communities to share their commitment to equity and a better future. We’ve collected the statements here, presented alphabetically by college.

Downey

Blue Ridge Community College – John Downey, president

The challenges brought about by COVID-19 during the last three months have disrupted the lives of virtually everyone, and the resulting strain and suffering is sometimes difficult to bear.

Yet, even that pain pales in comparison to the pain of this past week, prompted by the horrific death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis. The values of Blue Ridge Community College are built upon four critical pillars: Excellence, Ethical Behavior, Education and Empowerment. All too often, we humans fail to live up to the values we say we espouse, both as individuals and collectively.

Each of us at Blue Ridge Community College must never stop striving to realize those values we cherish, as we work tirelessly to achieve our critical mission of providing a higher education to the residents of the Shenandoah Valley. Every single person has an inalienable right to make a better life for themselves through hard work and equitable access to a quality education. Now, more than ever, our institutional values must be employed, and our resolve redoubled, to ensure that we are doing all we can to achieve equity as we deliver instruction and services for all who strive to benefit from them.

Paul D. Camp Community College – Dan Lufkin, president

Lufkin

How does one express himself when words cannot do justice to the gravity of the situation? Please allow me the space and grace to share my own thoughts on a difficult topic.

Like many of you, I have struggled to not only articulate, but even just come to terms with my own feelings in recent days. The atrocity that occurred in Minneapolis last week has opened a floodgate of emotions for people of all colors, ethnicities and backgrounds as demonstrated by both the peaceful protests and chaotic riots all across our country. Suffice it to say this is not the first time our country has been thrown into turmoil over the issue of racial injustice. I fear it will also not be the last. But that fear does not leave me without hope.

It’s impossible for me to understand what it is like to go through life in America as a black man, or woman for that matter. It’s unlikely I’ll ever face a situation where my ability to arrive home safely at the end of the day will hinge upon the color of my skin. It is possible, however, for me to listen to those who face that reality every day. I can listen to their stories and ideas on how to make things better. I can do my part to be a part of the change that this country so desperately needs.

While I can never understand how deeply hurt or angry a person must be to willingly burn entire neighborhoods to the ground, it heightens my awareness that there remains an open wound in this country that requires healing. While our black friends and neighbors are telling us that after centuries of injustice and inhumanity they still feel marginalized, we are reminded yet again by several minutes of gruesome video footage that their cries are justified.
But just as I have witnessed this past week the pain and anguish of the black community in every corner of our nation, I see people of all colors standing by their side attempting to comfort them in their grief. In our own community, several peaceful protests have occurred where people of various colors marched shoulder to shoulder, united by the common goals of peace and greater understanding. And therein lies my hope. We have been here before, but this time feels different. The dialogue feels real. The concern seems genuine. I am hopeful that we, in this community, will seize the moment to not only collectively grieve the loss of George Floyd, but to capitalize on the opportunity to not just hear, but listen, to what each other has to say. Western Tidewater can take the lead. I hope the nation follows.

As the president of Paul D. Camp Community College, I am proud of the racial diversity represented by our faculty, staff and students, and I would like to believe that ours has been an institution that has strived not just to achieve diversity, but equity as well. In the coming days and weeks as the discussion continues about race in America, you can be assured that conversation will be taking place here as well. Camp is a place where people of all colors, races and ethnicities are not only welcomed, but valued. It is my pledge to you that we will continue to honor that mission and seek ways to be even more inclusive and available to the entire community.

Central Virginia Community College – John Capps, president

Capps

During the past two weeks, we have witnessed the unpardonable murder of George Floyd and seen unrest and protests envelop our country, reaching to our very doorstep right here in Lynchburg. In the aftermath of events like these, we reel for those who have been wronged, we feel compassion for those who been hurt, and we sympathize with those who have been traumatized.

As the chancellor has noted, the inequities at the heart of this tumult require more than mere rhetoric. At CVCC, we can be proud that we are doing more than simply mouthing regret and calling for change. We feel regret and we are committed to change. But we are also part of the change as we improve our students’ lives—all our students’ lives—and help them realize their fullest potential so they can achieve their rightful place in American society.
As a community college and as individuals, we stand for the noblest of qualities: access, opportunity, equity, and equality. We decry those who would espouse the antithesis of those values. By modeling those values, we are a beacon of hope for what our community and our country can and should become.

Dabney S. Lancaster Community College – John Rainone, president

Rainone

As I have reflected on the events following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent violence, I continue to be very saddened by the continued racism that exists in this country.

Those of us who work tirelessly for good through our community colleges and what we represent MUST stand united and MUST come together to have the difficult conversations necessary and commit to take positive action to encounter systemic racism.

After all, our diversity is our strength and our individual, unique perspectives make us an effective team. On our campus, I continue to commit to do all I can to carry on the pursuit of diversity and inclusion and mutual respect for all.

We must all live by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Danville Community College – Jackie Gill Powell, president

Gill-Powell

The senseless and tragic death of George Floyd has left the Danville Community College community shocked, saddened, and struggling to understand. We have watched as those who are outraged and hurt protest inequality and plead for justice.

We grieve for the families, friends, neighbors, and communities that have been impacted by this violence, or violence like it. We believe that no person should feel threatened or fear violence in their community, neighborhood, workplace, or in the place that they have chosen to further their education. Our nation has been exposed to both traumatic and gut wrenching experiences that have transpired recently. It has caused many of us to pause and reflect over the prolonged years of systematic oppression, racial injustices and economic hardship, people of color have had to endure.

As president of Danville Community College, I take this opportunity to remember the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, most recently. As we remain focused on achieving educational equity, we are equally committed to seeing equity in justice. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustices, but there should never be a time when we allow those injustices to be silenced. DCC remains committed to ensuring that all staff and students, regardless of race or background, are valued and respected.

More importantly, we value the multicultural diversity of our students, faculty, and staff. We pride ourselves on recognizing cultural differences of background, experience, and national origin, and we will continue to promote the common bonds of humanity which crosses the boundaries of cultural difference, just as our nation should reflect.
I want our students, faculty, and staff to know that we are here for you. We are here to talk, and we are here to listen. We also encourage you to stand with one another during this time, and always. We encourage you to be kind, compassionate, empathetic, and supportive, human to human.

We must stay focused on our students and their path to success. DCC remains committed to ensuring that all people, regardless of race or background, feel welcome, valued, and safe on our campus. The sense of family that DCC provides to our community is needed now more than ever.

We reject bigotry, we embrace inclusivity, and we remain a beacon of hope for all. Reckless violence, loss of life, and senseless tragedy drives us to remember that we are strong, we persevere in the face of adversity, and we are UKNIGHTED.

I understand healing will not take place over night, but I am hopeful that the trajectory of our nation will soon turn towards that of liberty and justice for all. Let it begin with us – here at the Danville Community College.

Germanna Community College – Janet Gullickson, president

Gullickson

The beauty of this day belies the pain of these times. I am mindful that the pain, which some of us may be experiencing for the first time, is nothing compared to the pain our African American colleagues, students, friends and neighbors have felt for centuries.

Germanna Community College will be a different place, I believe, because of the call to address this pain with significant remedies and actions.

Over the next days, weeks, months and years, Germanna will have the conversations we must so that all belong and succeed.

It is up to YOU and me to make the difference for this time and place. This is our call to action and we will respond with courage, love, learning and belief that together Germanna can make a profound difference for the people and communities we serve. And, also know that the people and communities we serve will make a profound difference in us.

Northern Virginia Community College – Anne Kress, president

Kress

Almost 60 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which he condemned both the violence that Birmingham’s segregation-era police committed against Black residents and the many white voices who called for Black citizens to wait for the right time to protest these racist acts. Dr. King observed that the call to “‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’” The murder of George Floyd has brought such pain and grief to members of our community because this tragedy is not unique; it is chillingly familiar and repeats a history of racism that must seem like it will never end.

NOVA’s values are clear: we have a shared commitment to promoting equality for all who seek to improve their lives; we believe in the worth, dignity, and human potential of each individual; we recognize our responsibility to build and maintain a welcoming, caring and inclusive environment in which to learn and work. These values are a promise to our students and employees that they will not wait for equity in opportunity at our college.

NOVA also has a responsibility to our community to make this promise real. We are accountable to our students and our employees for creating a culture that finds its strength in diversity and opposes hatred in all its forms. We must be honest in acknowledging and facing the systemic racism that has twisted our past and is devastating our present. We have an obligation as educators to create a learning environment that is committed to excellence and grounded in humanity and empathy. We must act on our values with purpose and integrity and live them every single day. This is how we move forward, together.

Patrick Henry Community College – Angeline Godwin, president

Godwin

The challenges and anxieties regarding the global pandemic of COVID-19 have become a backdrop for the outcries of raw pain, sorrowfully mingled with the quest to find a voice for the voiceless and a chance to hear those that have been too long silent. Then, with an eruption of violence and destruction, we find ourselves struggling to hear and listen to the messages of those that must speak, have the right to speak, and offer much to all of us if and when we hear them speak.

We have much to grieve. We have much to champion. We have much to fix. We have much to make right.
A key ingredient to healing, recovery, and authentic change is hope. Patrick Henry Community College has been and will continue to be in the “hope” business. It is who we are. It is what we do. Community colleges were founded as learning and teaching centers of hope. We began with open doors, committed to serving anyone who wants to learn, who wants to secure that new career or new life, who wants to follow a dream. Our campus is full of people who have dedicated their lives to being champions of those who could not champion themselves.

Our students need for us to stay focused on their success and their dreams. Our students need for us to remain vigilant in our vision for “student success.” Our students need for us to remain in the “hope” business.

#PHamily must be more than a clever hashtag. Now we get to show what this #PHamily is all about, what we are made of, what is really important to us, and what we value. #PHamily embodies the spirit of who we are as a college and as a cornerstone of this community. The true meaning and value of #PHamily will be put to the test as we work to be a catalyst and champion of healing, recovery, and meaningful change. And while our focus remains “teaching and learning,” which is our “main thing,” we know that the fundamentals of equity, justice, diversity, inclusion, and integrity can and must undergird that teaching and learning experience for our students as well as the workplace experience for our faculty and staff.

In the coming weeks, months, and years, we as a college will have the opportunity and the obligation to contribute, to serve, and sometimes, to lead the long road to healing, recovery, and meaningful change for our students, our faculty and staff, the communities we serve, and beyond.

We all need each other more than ever. Our communities will need us more than ever. Our students need us more than ever.

While we certainly will not have all the answers, and we acknowledge there is no quick fix, we can never be afraid to ask the questions–the difficult ones. And we will.

A few days ago, feeling completely unprepared to participate in a conversation about the tragic events unfolding around us, I turned to my comfort zone and penned a few words. I shared them on Facebook. I will share them again, not for their poetic worth, but for the simple purpose of trying to express what I feel incapable of expressing. I could not help but see faces racing through my mind, faces of people that I love, faces of sons of mothers that I honor and respect, knowing that any of them could have been in similar horrible situations, not because of what they did or where they were, but who they were. Like many of you, I may feel “speechless,” but I will not be “silent,” realizing that we will all respond, react, and take steps and actions in our own way and in our own time. We all have a role to play. Every member of this #PHamily has talents and expertise that can be leveraged to do this great work of hope.

Rappahannock Community College – Shannon Kennedy, president

Kennedy

Our country is still trying to get a handle on this Pandemic and the devastation, both in terms of lives lost and the economic crisis. And now, we have all witnessed the horrific way in which George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. It is such a time of unrest, frustration, and profound sadness.

Now is the time to come together and to lean on each other. Having been at RCC now for nearly a year, I have been so impressed with our RCC family and your resiliency. While we are hurting, it is the strength of our family that can bring us peace and calm. If you are struggling personally, please reach out to your colleagues, your friends, and to us at RCC. Some resources are listed below.

In November, our local board adopted a revised mission statement, a vision statement, and our values. The values are IDEAL: Integrity; Diversity and Inclusion; Excellence; Access; and, Learning for Life.

I want to focus specifically on Diversity and Inclusion. The value statement reads, “We value cultural and individual perspectives in our workplace, classroom, and community.” We do not tolerate different perspectives; we value them. It is the role of our College to be an open and safe space where learning and growing are fostered and encouraged. This can happen through open dialog while treating everyone, regardless of our differences, with dignity and respect.

Meaningful change must happen. It certainly is long overdue and exasperatingly slow. Know that I stand with you as we work toward peace. RCC is committed to providing a learning environment that is safe, healthy, welcoming, and inclusive.

J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College – Paula Pando, president

Pando

My heart aches for what is happening in our country — the loss of over 100,000 American lives to an invisible virus; over 40,000,000 Americans out of work; horrific images of violence rooted in racism and blatant disregard for human life; peaceful protests ignited by pain, anger, and a call to action quickly turning to violence and destruction of our cities.

I don’t have answers but this I know to be true – my commitment to serving the communities who need us most is stronger today than ever before. We have to redouble our efforts to build a college community that is inclusive and values every member. We must continue on our path to cultivate an environment of mutual respect, where every person in our community can reach their full potential.

In closing, we are confronted by the fact that systemic racism continues to exist in our country and in our community. We cannot shy away from difficult conversations, nor can we afford not to look inward and assess where we are personally in our relationship with race and racism. One of our nation’s most sacred documents states that we are all created equal with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We’ve got to do better and we’ve got to work harder to make this true for all.

Southside Virginia Community College – Quentin Johnson, president

Johnson

As we find ourselves face-to-face with racial division we find impossible to describe, I am reaching out to you in my role as President and as a part of your SVCC family.

I was devastated to witness the murder of George Floyd and am saddened by the upheaval that has followed in cities around the country. Until our African American students and SVCC family members can leave their homes and feel freedom from worry, our work — to create a more educated, inclusive community — continues, and our contributions to our communities are more important than ever.

Please talk to one another, express your fear, your doubts, and ultimately, your hope for a better tomorrow. When we refer to ourselves as family, it is not just because we get along when life is easy – – it is because we are there for one another when life is hard.

The pandemic and social distancing will make taking care of one another even more difficult, but we all want to be there for each other and offer each other support. I speak for myself and the SVCC college leadership team when I say to all of you, if we can be of assistance, or if the SVCC family can help in any way, please do not hesitate to ask.
So many of you have been friends and colleagues for many years: now is the time to lean on those relationships. Even though I have been here less than a year, I see the bonds that make SVCC special and am so pleased to be a part of this caring, kind community.

The mission of the community college — access, equity, and community building — demands that we lead during difficult times. We will build on the initiatives shared by Chancellor Glenn DuBois. I am honored to be asked to lead the VCCS task force that will review the law enforcement curricula offered across our community college system and already, Dr. Keith Harkins along with Drs. Dalton, Edmonds, and Patton are initiating steps to begin work with faculty to review our other SVCC program offerings and identify areas where we can make improvements.

Please join me in supporting one another. Together we can, and will, lead our community to a brighter future for all. Thank you. Be well, be encouraged and stay safe.

Southwest Virginia Community College – Tommy Wright, president

Wright

Over the last few days we’ve seen another life taken that has caused some of us to yet again be concerned for where we are as a nation. My hope is that this time we will not allow ourselves to become calloused to the issue but will encourage true conversations and dialogue as to what we can do individually, collectively, as a college, and as a community to impact the change that is needed to deal with the past 400 years of racial injustice.

At Southwest Virginia Community College, we are against racial discrimination, racial injustice, and racial violence. The brutal and shocking deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are only the most recent reminder that COVID-19 is not the only pandemic we are combating as a nation.

The world mobilized to find a cure for the novel coronavirus. We must also take action to remove the disease of racism. Violence is never the solution. We must be compassionate towards our fellow humans. We must see each other as equal and treat one another with kindness and respect.

Kofi Annan said, “If tolerance, respect and equity permeate family life, they will translate into values that shape societies, nations and the world.”

The Southwest family stands in solidarity with our Black, African American, and minority faculty, staff, and students. We stand in support of racial equality. We stand in support of a world that is safer for all ages, races, genders, identities, religions, and status.

One of the core values at Southwest is inclusiveness and our mission is to provide quality education and cultural enrichment opportunities. Through our values and mission, I know we have and we will continue to realize our vision to transform lives, strengthen communities, and inspire excellence.

Earlier this semester, I asked Dr. Brian Wright to begin thinking about ways in which we could increase our diversity and inclusion efforts and we talked about a speaker’s series for this academic year. While we can’t meet together for such a series, we will be coordinating a speakers series that I hope will help generate this much needed dialogue and provide all of us with even more tools that we can use to help support our inclusion and diversity efforts.

Thomas Nelson Community College – Gregory DeCinque, president

DeCinque

I sincerely hope you are all doing well during these uncertain and challenging times. Between the COVID-19 threat and the unrest centered around the death of George Floyd I personally find myself saddened and shocked. I have written way too many messages to colleagues at a number of campuses asking for understanding, sympathy and change when these things occur. This time I find myself at a loss for words that might help us understand the senseless loss of life and the continued pattern of racism and violence that is now taking place. It must stop.

We as educators have a responsibility to be part of the solution and find ways to take appropriate action. I hope that we can engage our faculty, students, and all members of our diverse community in meaningful dialogue that leads to positive societal change. I look ahead to joining you in these discussions.

History must stop repeating itself. We must come together in love and respect, regardless of differences. There is no other choice if we really want a just and equal society for all.

Tidewater Community College – Marcia Conston, president

Coston

On Sunday, we remembered the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach. While I was not here during that tragic time, I mourned the loss of those 12 individuals killed in a senseless act of violence.

Just last week, we witnessed another tragedy in our nation, the death of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis. Like many of you, I am horrified by the circumstances surrounding his death. The outrage of so many spilling into our streets, manifesting into both peaceful protests and violence, speaks to the hurt, anger and confusion in our communities. Collectively, their voices seem as one, crying out for solace, calmness and resolution.

Mr. Floyd’s death occurred in the midst of a pandemic, COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of more than 377,000 worldwide, 104,000 nationwide, and approaching 1,400 in our own state. Along with the staggering deaths totals, this relentless virus has devastated our social, economic, political and educational systems. We are truly navigating unprecedented times and treading in unchartered waters.

Coming to this community a mere five months ago, I was impressed by your willingness to move this college forward with new leadership and a renewed focus on student success. In mid-March, I again applauded your tenacity to transition to remote learning and teleworking in response to COVID-19. I continue to be inspired by your dedication to tirelessly serving our institution and students. Your resilience is undeniable.

As President of Tidewater Community College – our institution – I encourage each of you to stand with one another during these difficult days. Know that I support you, and I urge you to support each other. Reach out to your colleagues, your friends and mentors. We might be physically distant, but we are together. Talk to one another, and just as important, listen to each other. For those in need, support services are available to help.

My message to each of you is one of profound compassion, hope and expectation for brighter days. Change is long overdue and frustratingly slow, but I am confident that circumstances will improve. As an institution of higher education, we remain committed to dispelling bigotry and modeling inclusivity.

I stand beside you in solidarity, with an unwavering resolve to foster a learning environment that is safe, healthy and welcoming for all.

Virginia Highlands Community College – Adam Hutchison, president

Hutchison

The events of the last two weeks have been upsetting and unsettling, and my heart is grieved and conflicted. George Floyd’s death was senseless, unnecessary, horrific, and his treatment was especially monstrous at the hands of those who are called to protect and serve. I know of no justification for their actions.

This type of cruelty is a terrible scar on our nation, and I pray for, and am committed to, working for healing for us all. Racism – overt or hidden, spoken or silent, systemic or individual – is wrong and must be condemned at every turn.

I’m grateful for the leaders in our communities – pastors, business owners, neighborhood organizers, and others – who have coordinated and led peaceful demonstrations calling for change and accountability. They have condemned the violence and destruction, and they’ve modeled the principles of action upon which our freedom is based.
I echo their calls to be more engaged in our communities, to help those in need, to support constructive policies, and to vote for wise servant-leaders in local elections.

I also know the bravery, compassion, and care that our police officers provide every day, often in the most difficult circumstances, and I am thankful for their sacrifice and service to me and our community. In light of the violence we have witnessed this week, I pray for their safety and wisdom as they work for peace in our cities.

Virginia Highlands Community College is committed to thoughtfully and continuously examine the ways we serve and interact with our students and our community – especially students and families of color. We believe that education is a wonderful tool for equality and enrichment for everyone, and we hold the worthiness of each individual as a core value.

To fulfill our mission, we will listen, reflect, and act to better serve our community. May we work together, collectively, to build the culture and society that offers dignity and respect to every person, and may we extend forgiveness and mercy to all. Let us love our neighbors.

Virginia Western Community College – Robert Sandel, president

Sandel

As we struggle as a nation to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and the deaths it has caused, we must also come to grips with the fact that countless unnecessary deaths in our country have originated from a place of hatred and institutionalized racism. We are fortunate in our region that the majority of those protesting the tragic death of George Floyd and others before him are peacefully making their voices heard. We also are fortunate to have government leaders and police officers who honor the first amendment and the rights of those protestors while also protecting public safety. There are no easy answers here and I will not pretend that I have a solution to the turmoil and anger that is boiling over in our nation.

What I do know is that education has always been and will always be the great equalizer. It gives individuals a way to uplift their lives and the place of their families in our society. It teaches us to approach others with understanding. At Virginia Western Community College, I am most proud of the “community” in our name. I believe we have fostered a community where anyone, no matter the color of their skin, their economic situation or their place in life can find their path to personal success.

Dr. Glenn DuBois this week released a statement regarding steps Virginia’s Community Colleges will take to ensure all individuals across the Commonwealth have equal access to opportunity no matter their race. He has appointed a task force to examine what all VCCS institutions are doing to ensure equity and to develop goals and measurable strategies to increase it. He also appointed a panel to examine the curricula used across the system to educate law enforcement officers in criminal justice.

I fully support Chancellor DuBois for taking this important step. As the first community college in Virginia, founded in 1966, Virginia Western has always been a leader in providing educational opportunities. Today, we must also be a leader in helping to tear down racism and build a stronger future for the Commonwealth and our nation.

As we proceed to make changes to how we operate in response to the pandemic, I promise you we will not change our dedication to our core values of diversity, integrity, respect, success and teamwork. We will continue to foster a marketplace of ideas in the region. We will continue to help all our students reach their goals through education. This is our community and we are committed seeing it remain safe and healthy, and to seeing it thrive.

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