A Message from the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty

June 16, 2020


Dear Campus Community:

George Floyd was laid to rest with the prayer and demand that this would be the last lynching. Bodies have flooded the streets, braving batons, tear gas, and a pandemic as testament to the value of Black lives. Is this the tipping point? The number of people joining demonstrations to confront and combat police violence and systemic racism is a hopeful moment. Real change will require more than a moment.  

Four-hundred years of white supremacy will not simply wither: it is built into the basic organization of American society. I come to the work of dismantling white supremacy with commitment and humility. Real change requires more than the belief that you aren’t racist. The work is subtler and more complicated than that. White people must learn to see the ways we participate in, and benefit from, white supremacy and don’t notice it. We must move beyond what Robin DiAngelo terms “white fragility:” we need to develop emotional intelligence and resilience in order to do this work.  

Real structural change requires that white people become antiracist: that is, actively combat racism. This work is complex because it must be intersectional: all Black lives matter, thus antiracist work challenges all modes of oppression—race, class, gender, sexuality, and other relations of power that produce systemic oppression and privilege.

On college campuses, anti-racist work is often relegated to ethnic studies departments and/or student activism. Curriculum is an important place to challenge white supremacy and vehicle for intersectional analysis, but we must look at everything we do. We must rethink how we teach as well as what we teach. We need to learn how to have difficult conversations. We must reconfigure policies. In my role leading the academic affairs division, I will tackle racism and other forms of oppression head on: everything is on the table.

Ibram X. Keni, author of How to be an Antiracist, said in an interview recently that he has some hope that racist policy could be eliminated by 2030. Meeting that goal will take tremendous collective resolve.

So, dear friends, we have work to do. We must ruthlessly examine our own policies, our practices, our commitment to justice, and our ability to hold ourselves accountable. My promise to the Whittier community is that we will do it.  

sal johnston, Ph.D.
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty

Resources for white allies:

Robin DiAngelo. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

Claude M. Steele. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do

Mahzarin R. Banji. Blindspot: The Hidden Biases of Good People

Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Ibram X. Kendi. How to be an Antiracist