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Confronting systemic racism requires action and resources

Our country has a problem that we cannot afford to ignore: Racism and racial inequality are pervasive and systemic. Although this has been true since the days of our nation’s founding, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed with fierce clarity how these inequities affect every aspect of life, from who is most likely to be an essential worker to who is most affected by unemployment to who is in the greatest danger of dying from the virus. This urgent wake-up call has been compounded and amplified by a growing awareness of how police killings of Black men and women, and violence against Black people more broadly, have been allowed to go unchecked, unexamined and unpunished.

Racism is everyone’s problem and we share a sacred and urgent responsibility to take actions that begin to reverse centuries of discrimination. I have been inspired and heartened by our community’s outpouring of support for such efforts, and by the many people who have reached out to ask how they can support the University of Washington’s Black students as well as systemic change at the UW.

In recent weeks, I have, along with other UW leaders, met with our Black Student Union and Black faculty and staff to listen and learn about what actions and types of support are most needed. As a result of those conversations, the UW has created the Black Opportunity Fund through the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity. The fund’s aim is to support our Black students by acknowledging the harm that systemic racism has on the Black community, take action to address these inequities and injustices and fund a strategic agenda that meets immediate and on-going needs of our Black students, faculty and staff. It will serve as an extension of the work already underway through the UW’s Race & Equity Initiative. I invite contributions from our community as a way to support this critical work.

Confronting bias, transforming institutional policies, and accelerating systemic change is the daily work of everyone in our community, and we recognize that there is so much more work to do. As a public university, we are part of a system that has historically harmed and marginalized communities of color, and the responsibility lies with us to create a safe, supportive and equitable institution, community and world.