Grand Jury Announcement Faculty & Staff Students

End of Year Reflections

To members of the Washington University community,

As 2014 draws to a close and we look ahead to a new year, I have been reflecting on the events of the past several months. The killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner – and, more generally, the unequal treatment of African Americans by law enforcement – should deeply concern and affect every one of us. Many of us have become even more conscious of the extent to which racism still burdens our community and our country.

Members of our own Washington University community have shared their experiences of racist acts against them, including unacceptable acts of racism by other members of our community. This reality leaves me deeply troubled, disappointed, and frustrated that we have not made more progress. We need to acknowledge that racism exists in the University community, in St. Louis and in our nation, and we must work to eliminate it.

I have heard the voices of students and colleagues saying that African Americans – and African-American males especially – are sometimes stopped and harassed by police for no other reason than that they are black in a largely white community.  No person should ever be targeted by a law enforcement official or anyone else solely because of his or her racial identity. That is true anywhere, including on our own campuses. Such treatment goes against all we believe and work for at a great university.

I have also seen how racism plays out on our own campus when individuals take to anonymous social media sites like “Wash U Confessions” and “Yik Yak” to spew bigoted sentiments that have no place in our community. I am disappointed in and angered by those who perpetuate hateful speech behind the veil of anonymity, and I abhor the lack of respect and reasoned intelligence that this kind of communication signifies. Although we cannot stop this communication, we can condemn it, and I do.

Finally, we must acknowledge that Washington University and the people who make it great – its students, faculty, staff and alumni – have the ability to begin to bring about positive, meaningful change in our greater community.  I am proud of all of our students and of the work they are doing in classrooms, in laboratories and in studios and, yes, on the streets and sidewalks of St. Louis, to help raise the awareness of what is wrong and what, together, we can do to begin to set it right.

As we move to a new year, let us look within ourselves and within our community to find answers to deep-seated issues that have divided us for so long.  I know that we have the capability at Washington University to do this.  Just as we have set our sights on improving health and curing diseases, feeding a starving world, providing sustainable forms of energy that do not endanger the world’s environment, and caring for the world’s rapidly aging population, the work of addressing the structural inequalities of the world, including racial inequality, is work we must do together, across disciplinary and cultural lines and in partnership with others.

I thank all of you for what you are doing to make Washington University great, and there is much to celebrate in that regard. But we have fallen short in creating an environment where everyone feels respected, honored and safe. We must acknowledge these shortcomings and work together toward a future where “Black lives matter” is more than a slogan and where racial inequality is something to be studied in a history course. Our community can be a force for positive change. Together, we can do better and be better.

Sincerely yours,

Mark S. Wrighton


  1. Wow! Excellent sentiments. Let’s turn these ideals into actionable elements, roll up our sleeves, and act together. What is the next step?

  2. “The killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner – and, more generally, the unequal treatment of African Americans by law enforcement – should deeply concern and affect every one of us.”

    Very true. They concern me that our own Chancellor willingly ignores sound evidence, throws out the hard work of a grand jury, and fails to use his own intelligence and prefers, instead, to bend to the will of a lynch mob. That is not leadership. Instead, our Chancellor brought embarrassment upon our university by honoring a criminal, lowering the flag to half staff as though the proven criminal was a national hero, and has not protected the rights of every student to study in a safe environment. That is very concerning and it points to a current epidemic in our society. Despite the rally cry, this is not an issue of “Black Lives Matter”, it’s an issue of “ALL Lives Matter”, even the lives of police officers who are just trying to do their job as best they can, and go home to their families at night, who are forced into a corner by the likes of Michael Brown requiring them to take action in an effort to provide safety to every life. Our Chancellor should be recognizing and honoring our police forces, our first responders, our military, those who truly try to make a difference in our country, not criminals.

    It is very troubling indeed.

  3. I hope Chancellor Wrighton’s “Reflections” is being sent to every parent of every student at Wash. U. It may shake some of them up and get them talking. That’s important, because nothing else is likely to come from the Chancellor’s rhetoric. For all of his saying the University needs to do something, there’s not a hint of even a single initiative. And except for racial profiling by the police, a problem about which he apparently only recently became aware (!), his focus is primarily on individual racist slights. Anyone who has become more conscious, as the Chancellor claims to have, of the “racism [that] still burdens our community” would, you’d think, have some sense of the deeply imbedded structural racism in St. Louis county. But the Chancellor makes structural racism as far removed from St. Louis as possible: “[T]he work addressing structural inequalities of the world, including racial inequality, is work we must do together….” But maybe the fact that he’s all rhetoric and no substance is a good thing. Do we really want to the University to try to solve structural inequality the way it is “feeding a starving world” (think Monsanto!) or “providing sustainable forms of energy” (think Peabody Coal!)?

  4. Thank you, Chancellor Wrighton! Wash U is in a rare position to radically improve STL. Makes me proud to call WUSTL my alma mater.

  5. “What is the next step?”

    1. Un-hyphenate America. We espouse “unity”, but the Chancellor and society at large immediately divide with comments such as “unequal treatment of African Americans”. Are we all not just Americans? Do people who prefer “African-American” consider themselves too good to just be American? Many people with darker skin aren’t from Africa, have never been to Africa, and have to go back many generations to trace a lineage to Africa. We have many here on campus from countries other than those on the African continent… Haiti, Jamaica. Are they “African American”? We are the only country in the world that subdivides our country in this manner. To start moving toward a unified country, we have to quit dividing it; we have to un-hyphenate it. How does the song go: “I’m proud to be an… “?

    2. I’ll quote what a black student told me who grew up in an inner city environment. “People stereotype the ‘young black teen’ because we’ve given them a reason to stereotype us.” This is true. Right or wrong, stereotypes exist for a reason. A group of young black teens attacked and killed a white Bosnian in Bevo Hills recently. Does this help eliminate, or reinforce, the stereotype? Does this help, or hurt, my friend? All these protests, the parents claiming, and the media purporting, that Michael Brown was an innocent, unarmed teddy bear, doesn’t help. It redirects the real issue my friend sees clearly. Those with influence over young black male teens need to focus their efforts, extensive efforts, into eliminating the stereotype by changing the behavior. Quit giving them a pass and hold them accountable, work with them, show them, be honest with them.

    3. Then, we have to look at why a group of young black teens would openly attack a person, would strong arm a store clerk, would willingly disrespect and assault a police officer. It’s parenting, it’s the family. It all starts with the parents and their responsibility. Michael Brown grew up in a broken home, obviously had some anger issues, obviously had a low moral compass that convinced him it was acceptable to do drugs, rob a store, and try to kill a police officer. His parents failed him. We have a disease in our country that is destroying the core family unit, the mother and father role models. We don’t think twice about breaking apart a family through divorce. Meanwhile, the kids suffer. We need to turn this around.

    4. We need to overhaul our welfare system. The system was designed during the Great Depression to aide those who had come on hard times, to help them get by, while they tried to get their feet back under them. There was a pride, and ego, about moving forward and getting off welfare. I understand there are many who use welfare as was originally intended. I also accepted that we have a responsibility to every citizen, but it should extend only as far as the individual is also willing to move forward. Instead, we’ve allowed the welfare system to promote systematic poverty. A large majority who are supported by welfare have no desire to move forward. I had someone tell me once, “why should I work when I get my welfare check?” It’s too easy. At a minimum, let’s add some conditions. When I graduate, I have to get a job, I have to work to make an income. Why not make those on welfare do community service? Make them at least keep their neighborhoods clean? Try to improve things. Make them attend government sponsored personal finance classes. Add conditions that force them to move forward, that will eventually free them, and most importantly their children, from dependency. Instead, right now, welfare creates dependency. Let’s change it.
    5. Finally, we need to hold the media to a higher standard and accountable for what they do. In a rush to get the viewers, the media rushes to judgment, sensationalizes every situation, while ignoring stories that might calm the storm. In the Michael Brown case, our own Post Dispatch did everything they could to incite the riots, to encourage the perception of a racial divide. They insisted on the rhetoric that Michael Brown was “unarmed”. While he didn’t hold a weapon in his hands, he clearly proved that he could do some damage to anyone he wanted to. By this definition, an Ultimate Fighter is “unarmed”, but they also do much damage. Further, the media ignored the witness accounts who said they saw Brown charge at the officer, saw him assault the officer, and who clearly said Brown never had his hands up. On the night of the incident, there was a cellphone video available on YouTube that started within minutes of the shooting. That video captured a first hand eyewitness off screen who was describing what he saw. He gave the exact account that corroborated Wilson’s testimony. He was never put on camera for the world to see. He was never openly interviewed. But his testimony was captured unknowingly. I found it, I’m sure the media had it. In fact, I know the media had it because I sent them the link to it. Also on that video, the man videoing openly said he did not see the incident, yet immediately declared Wilson was a racist who had killed Brown in cold blood. Within a few minutes, his statement is repeated many times as though he was an eye witness. Why didn’t the media show both sides? Why didn’t they defuse the heated situation by telling the whole story? We need to hold them accountable.

    There’s your action plan. And the Chancellor could choose to be a leader, to stand tall for truth and real justice, instead of being a sheep who is simply bowing to political correctness.

  6. “The killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner – and, more generally, the unequal treatment of African Americans by law enforcement – should deeply concern and affect every one of us.”
    Let’s take Michael Brown out of that statement. It doesn’t concern me one bit. I wish he would’ve lived so he could spend a few years in prison. Perhaps that would’ve had an impact on him. But he decided to cause his own death. God bless Darren Wilson for risking his life and giving up his career to protect the good citizens of Ferguson. On any other day under different circumstances he would’ve given his life protecting Michael Brown. I hope he finds peace. When I read this statement, I wonder, what have we become??

    1. For someone who is so frequently thumping the tub for the constitution, you are certainly quick to ignore due process–the one guarantee that’s so important it’s in both the fifth and fourteenth amendments. Due process.

      There is no crime that an unarmed citizen could commit that forfeits his right to due process.

      I’m sorry that none of these citizens were perfect enough for you to consider them worthy of constitutional protection. They shoplifted. They sold loosies. They brandished a toy weapon. But the constitution exists to protect citizens from the government by giving them some rights in instances when they need them. People don’t need protections like due process if they never interact with law enforcement.

      It’s utterly naive to say “well, if you don’t break the law, you’ll have nothing to worry about.” But if we lived in Brigadoon we wouldn’t need the laws or the constitution. Due process exists because people break laws and should have an expectation that they will be treated fairly when they do.

      Due process. If you are “on the side” of law enforcement and the constitution, you would not be so quick to give away the rights of others.

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