A Statement about Justice and Remembering George Floyd

Jun 2, 2020

Dear Members of the University of Dubuque Family,

I really don’t know where to begin. As I have throughout my career at UD, I have wanted to communicate with all of you about the injustice we have all been witnessing. In all honesty, it has taken me some time to get to a point where I have any words to share. Telling you that I am saddened, angry, shocked, sickened, and frightened for members of our community is not enough. I realize that. Whatever words I can muster will surely fall short.

Last Thursday night, when I arrived home from my office, I watched in horror as breath was drained from the life of George Floyd. Up to that moment, I had placed disciplined limitations on my consumption of the news, and I had missed out on the events of the previous days.

On Thursday evening and Friday, I watched the protests.

On Saturday and into Sunday, I watched the cruel death of George Floyd get overwhelmed by opportunistic distractors. I am worried about many of you and your families. However, I am buoyed by the love that we have for one another in the UD community.

So, truthfully, I really don’t know where to begin or how to begin. So I’ll just start writing and, with any degree of God’s grace, what I have to say will, hopefully, communicate how much I care for each of you — our returning students and those of you I have yet to meet. My initial thoughts take me to some authors of particular significance.

Toni Morrison was one of the great American writers of the 20th century. An African American who was raised during the time of Jim Crow laws, Morrison’s act of defiance was to become educated. First she received her bachelor of arts in English from Howard University and then she earned a master of arts in American literature from Cornell University. She became a teacher and, in the late 1960s, she became the first black female editor in fiction at Random House Publishing in New York City. Of the many books she published, the one that still haunts me is Beloved. She died in 2019.

Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor. He was orphaned. His family was slaughtered. For many years after his release from the camps, he didn’t speak. The silence was his act of defiance, of remembering and honoring the dead, of voicing his grief, and of processing his experience of total humiliation and the utter contempt of humanity shown in Hitler’s death camps. Wiesel went on to be a prolific writer and peace activist. Of the many books he published, the one that still haunts me is Night. He died in 2016.

Among many of their accomplishments, both Morrison and Wiesel received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Peace Prize. I wish their voices were still with us today. We need to hear those voices.

Why do I mention these two writers: an African American survivor of Jim Crow America and a Jewish survivor of the death campus? Especially now?

I mention them because it is my hope and prayer that each of you, with your own, distinctively strong voices, will identify a way to understand America, critique America, and, through that critique, improve America and the world in which she exists: her children, her families, her immigrants, her unwashed and unloved. I offer that hope and prayer because that is the single most important contribution that this University can make through you; that is, preparing you — each of you — for service to the church and to the world. And I don’t make that ask lightly. I really do believe that you — each of you — has the potential to be the antibody to the cancerous tumor known as racism that is so deeply embedded in our body politic.

Here is my promise to you who will be new students and those of you who are returning students: the University of Dubuque will not be a perfect place. We are 100 acres of buildings and grounds filled with other imperfect human beings from over 40 states and 25 countries. We get a lot right, but we also sometimes fall short of our own high expectations. But our Mission is more than bricks and mortar. It is a very serious challenge to each of us to be more human; that is, to be more hospitable, accepting, and curious towards all people and to learn in a “diverse and equitable community where Christian love is practiced.” It is not my expectation that every person on this campus be a practicing Christian. In fact, I have long said that I believe we are a lessor community if that were to be the case. But it is my expectation that we will practice the very hard work of learning how to love and respect each other as we prepare you to step up to be the next Toni Morrison or Elie Wiesel. And, no; you don’t have to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom or the Nobel Peace Prize to make your contribution. But you do have to want to be the change that you wish to see implemented in the world, and my belief is that change begins by, first, learning how to love.

So be prepared, when you return to campus and when you arrive for the first time, to continue to learn, and to continue to learn how to love. Together, let us pray for George Floyd and for his family. May they experience peace, and may justice be served. And let us resolve to pray, without ceasing, for the other innocent victims of this national disease we know as racism. And may each one of us identify a way to be part of a just, equitable, and reconciled world.

Mancherlei Gaben Und Ein Geist (Various Gifts and One Spirit),

Jeffrey F. Bullock, PhD