A message from Dean Shanda

I witnessed a murder and I don’t know how to respond.

I know what I saw from the published cell phone and security camera recordings showing the murder of a black man at the hands of the police and I don’t know how to respond. The image is repeated on television, plays over and over in my head, and with each encounter I am more enraged, and I am sickened.

I have tried to imagine myself present, at that moment, watching the actions of the four police officers in Minneapolis and wonder how I would have reacted to witnessing George Floyd’s murder. Being honest with myself, I most likely would have looked the other way, granted deference to the authorities present, and shook my head at the sadness of the situation. Not a correct response, but one that I believe would have been most likely and for that I am ashamed.

Although I was not present in Minneapolis, I am present in this world where reaction to this catalyzing event has resulted in demonstrations that declare we must do something, yet I still remain uncertain how to respond. As a faculty member, administrator, husband, parent, leader, person of faith, and just as a member of the human race, I need to do something, but I struggle with a response.

This much I do know: I never want to witness a murder again. I can no longer be complicit in a society that disregards the life and value of any individual, especially because of the color of their skin. I need to change so that I never question my engagement and to keep changing as I learn from and with others. I must use the privileges that I have been granted due to my opportunities, my skin color, my position, and my talents to find responses within my authority to support the necessary changes to never face this situation again. As Dean of the College of Fine Arts, I pledge my commitment to the following first action steps to advance the much-needed dialogue to better understand each other and to make changes to prevent future circumstances where I don’t know how to respond.

  • This fall we will launch a weekly series of listening and learning sessions where faculty, staff, and students will be invited into intentional dialogue to increase our knowledge of one another and secure stronger bonds within our human condition. Only through greater awareness and understanding of each of our unique and individual journeys can progress be made and sustained.
  • We will pivot a portion of the internal CFA grant program to competitively provide financial resources to students, faculty, and staff who propose artistic and creative responses to the societal challenges of systemic racism, creatively advancing the dialogue.
  • Additional funding will be available for College of Fine Arts artistic programming that increases campus and community exposure to works created by artists of color to expand our world views and provide opportunity for new shared experience and understanding that not only do Black Lives Matter, all of our stories are unique and worthwhile.
  • We will work to find ways to further leverage the diverse talents of our faculty, staff, and students through calls for proposals for curricular and programmatic changes to make lasting differences in fulfilling our mission that asserts the arts as essential to both the individual and the community.

These are only a few initial action steps. More will undoubtedly be formulated and required as we work and learn more together. On a personal level, I commit to work harder at allocating intentional time to wrestle with the issues of injustice, diversity, inclusion, equity and the need for action rather than rhetoric.

I don’t ever want to witness a murder again, but potentially more importantly, I want to live out our shared humanity with respect and justice for all, regardless of the color of our skin.

Mark Shanda
Dean, College of Fine Arts

Originally shared June 5, 2020