Dear Campus Community,
Over the past few days, we have witnessed our country in pain, unrest and sadness. We grieve the tragic loss of George Floyd's life, along with countless others whose deaths have shone a light on racism around our nation.
Like many of us, I have struggled to determine what it is we can do to effect meaningful and lasting change. How can the country we love so dearly still be struggling with racism and inequality? What haven’t we learned? History can teach us so much, and yet we continue to repeat these tragedies. At the core of everything I know, a human being is a human being. It is incomprehensible to me to think there are still those who believe that a human being should be treated differently based on race, ethnicity, gender or any other differences to one’s own. Yet it continues.
As the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I believe strongly that we cannot allow our emotions to turn into destruction. The only way to achieve meaningful, lasting transformation is through courageous conversations, real listening, open hearts and minds, and the willingness to learn and to change.
Institutions of higher education have a responsibility to be beacons of hope in times of crisis. In our own unique way, we can lift up those voices that have not been heard. Our promise is and always has been to help future generations find a better way. Now is the time to honor that promise.
I call upon each of us in the USD and Vermillion communities to be the model for what can be. I recognize there are instances of racism in our own community. I was deeply disappointed by that bias on our campus less than six months ago but was encouraged by our community’s response. I do not discount those who feel anger. I’m asking all of us to use our collective perspectives to bring that light and love to drive out darkness and hate. Our university will not ignore the fear and pain caused by racism. We acknowledge the pain of the Black community.
While much work continues to be needed within the traditional halls of a university campus, more must be done. USD cannot make change in isolation. But the City of Vermillion and USD together are in the unique position to serve as leaders of change throughout the region. USD and city leaders can join with other community leaders, including:
- Vermillion Human Relations Commission/City of Vermillion
- Vermillion Police Department
- USD Police Department
- Clay County Sheriff’s Office
- Clay County Commissioners
- Vermillion Public Schools
- Vermillion United Way
- Vermillion Chamber and Development Corporation
- Vermillion’s faith-based community leaders
I am asking our community to please come together and create the change that is needed. Let us listen with open hearts. Let us reflect, meaningfully, and strive to improve. The future of our community and our nation is in each of our hands.
Sheila K. Gestring
University of South Dakota