To the students, staff, and faculty of the Department of Computer Science:
I write to you as chair of the Department of Computer Science to add my voice to the protests across the country. These protests are in response to the deep-seated and systemic racism that has led to the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks, and are all part of a long arc of violence targeted at Black communities. These incidents are fundamentally unjust and require a response because Black Lives Matter.
I still remember the intense despair I felt at the killing of Tamir Rice, and the denial of justice for Tamir’s family because our biased justice system ensured that the killer was not indicted. That loss continues to make me angry all these years later. The killings of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, John Crawford III, Matthew Ajibade, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, and Walter Scott—a list that seems long but is by no means comprehensive—send the same undeniable message that we have a lot of work to do to address the longstanding inequities and systemic racism endemic in our society.
I want to acknowledge the grief and suffering that many are experiencing—especially our Black students and other systemically marginalized groups in our department and college—but also anyone who is feeling anger and despair at these events right now. I want you to know that I support you—and that our department supports you. Building on interim Dean Keith Molenaar’s statement to the college I am dedicated to growing an inclusive community, ensuring that our students, staff, and faculty have a voice and can join in the work to make things better for all.
The path forward for me personally after Tamir Rice’s death was one of acknowledging and understanding that I had to examine my own biases and privilege; I had to continue to open myself to listening and learning from the experiences of members of Black communities as well as members of underrepresented communities in our college. I resolved to learn more about the structural biases and barriers built into the institution of higher education. I dedicated myself to addressing diversity and inclusion concerns, including the university policies and teaching approaches that contribute to inequity.
There is still much work to be done. We benefit by working together and learning from each other to create a safe, inclusive, and equitable future for all. As a department, we must begin with self-reflection and acknowledge biased and racist practices. We must acknowledge that we are a part of the problem given our lack of partnerships with historically black colleges and universities and our current underrepresentation of Black faculty and students in our department: We have no Black faculty members and only 79 Black students across all of our degree programs consisting of 2300 students. Difficult as these conversations may be, bringing such issues into view will allow our community to construct a better future. To that end, I will establish an inclusive excellence working group in the department consisting of students, staff, and faculty to focus our community on sincere commitments to adopting anti-racist policies and practices.
Fortunately, we are not alone. We are surrounded by a community of experts at CU who can support our journey. Indeed, there are many powerful statements from our colleagues across the college and from around campus from which to draw inspiration. There are also many resources available to help us begin to learn about anti-racist practices including:
I welcome your ideas on these issues and seek to begin a dialogue on addressing the deep-seated issues around racism, lack of diversity, and the barriers to opportunity that our students of color face each day. I look forward to working with you on these difficult issues and to supporting the creation of a vibrant community that values equity, diversity, and inclusion so that all may succeed.
Chair of Computer Science