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Steps to Offer Hope and Empowerment: A Message to the SNHU Community

Posted on June 1, 2020

MEMO

To: SNHU Community

From: Paul LeBlanc

Date: June 1, 2020

Subject: Steps to Offer Hope and Empowerment

I have written to you after other events that have shocked our collective conscience – white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, the shootings at the Pulse nightclub, the school shootings in Parkland. With each of those terrible incidents, we felt that something had gone terribly wrong. I write to you today with a heavy heart and a different feeling: that America is broken. Our cities are on fire, food lines stretch for miles, and we are in the grips of a worldwide pandemic. And last week we saw again – not once, but repeatedly – how deeply racist our country can be. 

Perhaps George Floyd will be for our generation what Emmett Till was for an earlier generation, a symbol of just how brutally inhuman America can be to people and communities of color, someone whose death sparks the national outrage that declares “No more.” No more to a bad cop with a knee to the throat of a man feeling his life ebb away. No more to a failed health system that allows disproportionate rates of death from COVID-19 and so many other ills among African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and low-income people. No more to massive job losses. No more to discrimination against Asian Americans because of coronavirus. No more to the structural and institutionalized racism of our judicial system, our schools, our economy, and the many institutions that continue to fail so many people.  

Universities have always stood for something bigger than the academic programs they provide. They are meant to develop the best traits of humanity, of citizenship, and of community. They are supposed to stand for something and contribute to a better world. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world.”  

So SNHU will work to be better, both for the 35,000 students of color we serve and in meeting our educational goals for all students. We will take these steps:

  • After consultation with the SNHU Board of Trustees, we are announcing a trustee-designated Social Justice Fund to address the inequities that too often get in the way of students completing their education. A task force will determine the best ways to use those funds and will consider ideas such as computers and connectivity for those struggling with access, an emergency relief fund, and transportation subsidies. We hope to roll out that program in the coming weeks.
  • We will review our general education program and majors, especially Criminal Justice and Justice Studies, to more directly address issues of race and equity, not as a single course, but as an ethos that runs throughout an SNHU education.  
  • We will expand our work with some of the most underserved populations in the country. We commit to being in communities of color with affordable degree programs tied to opportunity and to being culturally informed and responsive to the trauma of those communities.  

We have students, faculty, staff, and alumni who fought for social justice their whole lives and who are part of the peaceful protests happening across our country. Others are asking what they can do with their feelings of despair and helplessness and desire to help. I might start with empathy for those reeling with pain and righteous anger, with action that includes voting in November, and then finding ways to offer solidarity and support for all people of color in our community. Our country may be broken today, but we can only work toward healing if we do it together.

I often say SNHU is in the business of hope, and the steps we are taking are meant to offer hope and empowerment to those who have felt too little of either for too long.

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