June 1, 2020
Dear members of the Niagara University community,
Over the past few months, we have seen the best and the worst of our society—selfless acts of compassion and caring in response to the global pandemic are deeply contrasted by cruel violence against the African American community, especially by some of those who are called to serve and protect. Such acts, along with racist rhetoric, cannot stand, and must be condemned with full voice. However, words of condemnation must be accompanied by collective strategy and action to end racial violence and contest racism.
There is never a time for violence in our world, and we must seek peace while we walk with our brothers and sisters who suffer personal and systemic oppression and violence. Yesterday, I celebrated Mass with the Vincentians on Pentecost Sunday, which celebrates the gift of God’s spirit to provide courage, strength, and love. It is that same spirit that we call upon at this time. The Niagara University community must demonstrate actions that enhance diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We must continually engage in purposeful ways to identify and dismantle seen and unseen systemic and institutionalized racism.
When I was inaugurated president of Niagara University in 2014, I chose St. Vincent’s phrase, “action is our task,” to characterize my presidency. In that vein, I have called for the immediate formulation of a task force to identify and create objectives and outcomes for systemic change for our community. Dr. Rolanda L. Ward, associate professor of social work and endowed faculty director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality and Mission, and Kara M. Oliver, assistant director of the Niagara University Opportunity Program, will chair the Identifying and Dismantling Racial Injustice Task Force. I express my deepest appreciation to these individuals and the members of the task force, who have answered the call to serve and build on the foundation of the Niagara University strategic plan, as well as diversity initiatives established by the Diversity Committee and the good work of offices across campus. This work belongs to all of us.
Know that we have colleagues and students who may feel fearful, anxious, exhausted, depressed, and very much alone. Given our distancing and isolation, we must redouble our efforts to connect with and care for one another. The university continues, despite this distancing, to provide support for faculty, staff, and students.
I ask you to join me in prayer for Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others who have lost their lives. Pray for the courage to seek a true spirit of repentance for the sin of institutional and systemic racism. May God watch over their families and their communities, and may His healing presence reconcile our country’s history of violence, oppression, and marginalization.
With every good wish,
James J. Maher, C.M.