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Letter from the Former Department Head, Dr. Ellen Koch

Thoughts during a particularly difficult time in our history

Hi All,

The blatant systemic racism that has been a part of US culture since its inception has been particularly prominent in the media and in our outlets of social discourse recently. And while none of the current incidents of policing and judicial abuses are new, the growing public outrage over such cases as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Aubrey, and countless other victims our nation’s history of violence against people of color suggests that we may have arrived at a pivotal juncture in our collective national consciousness.

The faculty, staff, and instructors of the Psychology Department recognize the potential of this moment to effect positive change in our country at all levels. We do not get to choose whether or not to engage in this chronic battle; we only get to choose which side of the battle we wish to support. Our valuation of diversity and inclusion as core principles of our profession as educators demands that we stand in support of the genuine and peaceful efforts to move our nation to both call out and redress these cultural failures.

Dr. Sandra L. Shullman, the current APA President, indicated that "We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens" – and likely all people of color living in the US.  Although most of us wish that these things were not true, we might temper our disappointment by remembering the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he paraphrased a quote by the Universalist Unitarian minister, Theodore Parker. Dr. King reminds us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Change takes a long time, but it does happen. This is especially true when good people who see wrong actively work to fix things. That is what the Psychology Department will continue to do in response to these events. We also hope to work as allies and supportive resources for our bright, passionate, and socially active students (we are so proud of all your accomplishments) who are already taking leading and supportive roles in our common struggle to combat systemic racism. Seeing the good works that our students continue to do in these areas keeps me hopeful and energized in the face of all of the hard work that lies before us. 

To help faculty and staff brainstorm potential action plans that will actually address the needs and interests of our students, I have created a very brief, anonymous survey to solicit your thoughts and suggestions concerning what the Psychology Department may do to better address diversity and inclusion related topics in the future. This information will be informative for our faculty committee discussions going forward. Additionally, Dr. Jefferson is working on diversity initiatives at the college level. 

In addition to the racial injustices described above, I of course have not forgotten that we are in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, a pandemic that has ravaged communities of color with much higher rates of lethality than those found in predominantly White communities.  Given these profusion of challenges, I wanted to explicitly affirm that if you need some additional support, assistance, time, etc. with regard to your EMU related tasks and responsibilities, please reach out to members of the faculty for such assistance. The only way we are all going to get through these challenges successfully is if we all work together. Good communication is essential in such circumstances, so please reach out to see how faculty and staff might be able to be helpful.

This letter is just the start of a longer conversation we will need to have about these issues. To deepen the scope of such future discussions, I have included some resources below that might be helpful for those who wish to further their knowledge about how to effect positive change in society related to these issues.


Please take care, Dr. Koch

Great article by the Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer of UM's Equity, Inclusion, and Academic Affairs Office (Dr. Sellers, a psychologist) who is an inspirational speaker (he presented at my DH meeting in February) - https://odei.umich.edu/2020/05/29/i-am-so-tired/
Antiracism resources - bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES 
Consider doing the Washtenaw County 21 day challenge - https://www.uwwashtenaw.org/21-day-challenge-catalogue

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