I was extraordinarily concerned to hear about an incident that occurred on our campus between students at a week-long science and technology session conducted by our faculty. One of the students in the program used a racial epithet when addressing another student, in the context of additional derogatory language.
I was particularly attuned to this incident for two reasons. One, because it mirrors a situation I was in, when my son experienced a similar issue at school last year. As a parent I know how devastating it is to have to face the reality that Black children must contend with racist labels and discriminatory speech; AND how enraging it feels if these issues aren’t addressed. Two, I was distressed because many of our faculty in the School of the Education and Human Development, including myself, have studied, taught and developed interventions related to race, ethnicity, culture, diversity, equity and inclusion. To hear that incidents have occurred in our learning environments, and during events and programs we offer is intolerable. All the students we teach and learn from are valued – and we pride ourselves on creating a culture of belonging in all that we do.
To that end, I have been vigorously investigating the incident and I am actively addressing it. I am glad to have been able to speak directly to the parent who, like me, is contending with issues that are a tragic reality of being a Black parent at a time in history when denigration and erasure seem ever present. While we cannot have 100% control over the actions of those who visit the university, my team and I are in the process of developing and putting some actions in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen to any other child involved in any program related to the school. We are working on directly addressing with those involved in what happened this week - using restorative justice techniques, as well as developing a protocol for researchers, faculty and students who interact with children on and off-campus – so that we can be sure our school is prepared to proactively establish optimal learning environments for all participants, and able to effectively target problems when they occur. To that end, I offer some resources that may be useful for parents and educators to understand and address issues.
As we move forward I am dedicated to ensuring that our school is involved in advancing efforts to transform educational opportunities in ways that ensure equity, inclusion and access for everybody.
Laura P. Kohn-Wood, Ph.D.
Dean, School of Education and Human Development
University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida 33146