The following message is being sent on behalf of President Erik J. Bitterbaum:
To the SUNY Cortland community,
I reach out today with a very heavy heart. The death of George Floyd beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, captured on video by bystanders who begged the arresting officers to stop, came as a terrible shock to us all. But it should not have come as a surprise.
Floyd’s death as well of that of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed 26-year-old black woman shot by police March 13, and Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man shot by white civilians while jogging in a Georgia suburb Feb. 23 is just the most recent, and visible, example of the systemic racism that has plagued our culture for more than 400 years.
My heart weeps for the families of these victims, and all those who came before them. I know all of you share that sadness. And I suspect that these recent injustices have left many members of our community frightened, angry and unsure of their place in American society. Please know that you have a place at SUNY Cortland.
As an institution, we are committed to maintaining an environment where students from all backgrounds can thrive and grow as members of a caring, inclusive community. Racism is not, and will never be, tolerated at SUNY Cortland. That means that we, as a university and as individuals who believe that the weed of intolerance limits opportunity and stifles potential, must do more.
In the coming days, I will ask members of SUNY Cortland’s Presidential Council on Inclusive Excellence to coordinate new initiatives to strengthen and go beyond the many policies and projects that have been implemented since the council’s creation three years ago. The council, made up of faculty, staff and students, works to fight racism and ensure that inclusiveness is promoted in every aspect of university life, and to implement our strategic diversity plan.
On June 3, the university partnered with several student groups to host an online forum, “Black Lives and Liberations,” which welcomed more than 200 attendees. Campus community members are encouraged to visit the Institutional Equity and Inclusion Office webpage for resources that include SUNY Cortland’s bias-related incident reporting form.
We have endured much these last few months. As we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and cope with a “new normal” of social distancing and isolation, we have also been painfully reminded that racism continues to plague our society and must be addressed. I consider both of these scourges to be infections. Until they are eventually eradicated, they must be met by changes in behavior, attitude and culture. I pledge that SUNY Cortland will be a leader in that change.
Please be safe, stay engaged and remain hopeful. Together, we will help make the world a better place.
All the best,
Erik J. Bitterbaum