The death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers a week ago in Minneapolis has reminded us once again of the realities of racism in this country.  As a Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, we could say “these are political matters”; “these are personal matters”; or “we will leave this for others to make statements”.  At this  juncture I do not feel we have that option.  An explicit stance is needed.

Engineering Education is not a “neutral” discipline: we take as our departure point the people who learn, teach, and go into engineering careers, and we think critically about the impact of engineering work on society.  We cannot be unaffected by what is presently happening in the country: a key focus in our work is on how inclusion and exclusion operate in our society.  Today we see a potent expression of pain and frustration at the differential treatment of citizens in this country based on their race.

In our Departmental community are Black faculty and students whose lives have been marked by experiences of racism, and for whom traumas resurface with the video footage currently on our screens. Those of us who are not subjected to racism have all too easily been able to continue our lives without having events like this trigger this kind of fear, pain, and anger.  It is easy to make simplistic judgments of these events but as those who research and think about education and society, we should expect better of ourselves.

I also know that not everyone experiences our Department as the safe haven that I would like it to be.  We had started a process earlier this year to start to engage more deeply with these challenges, and the present moment adds a terrible urgency to this work.  As a Department, we need to build a renewed effort to understand what is happening both in our society and in our ENGE community, and to do everything we can to change things for the better.  We must build the capacity to have difficult conversations, where we can listen better to each other and provide a space for all to grow.  I invite you to connect with me on ways we can do this and will also continue to work closely with the faculty/staff and student representatives on our newly elected Equity and Inclusion Committee as they begin their important work identifying ways for us to systematically address these issues as a community.

Jenni Case
1 June 2020