Dear Newcomb Community,
Last week, Newcomb Institute expressed our outrage and despair over the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the continued instances of police brutality and shameful indifference, and the cumulative effect of systemic racism, white supremacy, and sexism. We stand with our students and others demanding accountability and change.
We in New Orleans and at Tulane University are distinctively implicated in racial injustice. Our city was the center of the slave trade; our regional and national wealth is literally built off the backs of the labor of others and the reproductive labor of Black women. We watched Black people die on rooftops, in the Superdome, and on the Danziger Bridge as both the levees and the federal government failed.
When we celebrate Josephine Newcomb’s vision of women’s education, we often omit that her bequest was to educate white women, and not until 1963 did Newcomb admit its first Black student. At a powerful symposium last fall, President Fitts celebrated the courage and dignity of Deirdre Labat, the first African-American woman to graduate from Newcomb College, and she recounted the overt racism she faced from faculty and students. We are proud to have her portrait in our offices in the Commons alongside Josephine Louise Newcomb.
My discipline and department of Political Science needs to do more. The academy needs to do more. Tulane University needs to do more. And the Newcomb Institute will do more. After we confer with our students, faculty, and staff of color and allies, we will communicate with you what we commit to doing in the coming year to be part of the solution. We welcome your suggestions.
As an Iowan who lived for 14 years in Minneapolis, I have long known what recent events demonstrated: that systemic racism is pervasive and not something trafficked in only by Southerners. Hubert Humphrey, the same person who worked against widespread antisemitism as mayor of Minneapolis and in 1948 enjoined the country to “get out of the shadow of states' rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights,” also thwarted the seating of Fannie Lou Hammer and the Mississippi Freedom Democrats in 1968.
As I watched the Kavanaugh hearings last year, I felt both rage and déjà vu. Had we learned nothing since Anita Hill? Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, and Darnella Frazier (who videotaped Officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd while other officers did nothing) have all assembled incontrovertible evidence. We join those calling for systemic change.
From 20th-century women’s suffrage movements to the modern-day wage gap, women of color have repeatedly rallied for the same rights as white women, without the same results. White women got the vote in 1920, but women of color would wait until 1965 for the right to vote, and that right is being eroded every day. In Louisiana, rising maternal mortality rates reveal systemic racism in our healthcare system. Black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. And here in the incarceration capital of the world, black women are imprisoned at twice the rate of white women.
The path to moving forward lies in admitting how we have failed, individually and collectively, and how we can and will do better. We can and must honor George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, and the countless others whose lives were lost to racism by committing ourselves over and over again, day after day, to actively fight for racial equality.
As an educational institution in the American South, Newcomb Institute is uniquely positioned to confront the ugly history of racism and the ingrained and systemic racism that persists in our society and institutions today. We will strive to proactively identify and address inequality and celebrate differences. We will be active partners and allies to other entities on campus working to make the Tulane community more inclusive and diverse. We commit to research, teaching, and student and community engagement that is equitable and anti-oppressive.
Sally J. Kenney, P.h.D.
Executive Director, Newcomb Institute
Newcomb College Endowed Chair
Professor, Political Science Department
Below are some resources to support you and give you ways in which to support the fight for racial justice and equity. Additional resources are available through the Center for Academic Equity the Carolyn Barber Pierre Center for Intercultural Life.
Resources to Support Mental Health and Wellbeing
Community Organizations to Know
Join us in our commitment to action. Please share your ideas for how Newcomb Institute can actively work toward racial equity through an anonymous Wavesync form or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.