Emory leaders speak out on Juneteenth, systemic racism

June 17, 2020

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Emory had early release June 19 so students, faculty and staff could spend a portion of the day exploring the issues that challenge our shared understanding of history, including through a “Juneteenth – Giving Voice” webinar hosted by the School of Medicine.

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The following message was sent by Emory President Claire E. Sterk and President-elect Gregory L. Fenves to the Emory community on June 17, 2020.

Dear Emory Community,

The city of Atlanta and Emory University have long found themselves at the epicenter of history and that holds true at this pivotal moment for our nation. 

Juneteenth marks the day when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached African Americans in Texas in 1865. As we approach that day, we must remember that Emory in particular must continue to grapple with the fact that the university was founded in the antebellum South and profited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Systemic and institutionalized racism has its roots in the enslavement of Black people and is manifested today in any number of ways, including the anti-black racism that killed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and countless others. 

We mourn the loss of these lives. It has never been clearer that leaders across the country and those who have benefitted from the lasting impacts of slavery must confront our nation’s history and role in oppression, as well as the systemic and institutionalized racism that has persisted since.

It is in that spirit that we will, for the first time, mark Juneteenth as a university day of recognition. While the day celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people, its significance reaches well beyond remembrance on June 19, and must include urgent engagement of the university community in these issues. 

Emory will have early release at noon on Friday so that our students, faculty and staff can spend a portion of the day reading, reflecting, engaging and exploring the issues that challenge our shared understanding of history. A program commemorating Juneteenth will be hosted by Emory School of Medicine.  Friday’s session, “Juneteenth – Giving Voice,” will be the first in a webinar series on racism and social justice. The webinar will be held from 2-3 pm and feature a panel that includes Sheryl Heron, MD, MPH, FACEP; Jada Bussey-Jones, MD, FACP; and Nicole M. Franks, MD. Carolyn C. Meltzer, MD, FACR, will serve as moderator. We also encourage members of our community to support Atlanta-based opportunities to observe the day

Employees will be paid for the full day and we encourage engagement in the programming offered by the university or dedicating time to reflect on how we plan to be a part of dismantling overt, subtle and unintentional forms of racism in our community and with each other. We ask that all members of our community spend time on Juneteenth and in the coming days, weeks and months reflecting on our history and consider how to engage in the work necessary to address racism as it exists in our university, in our communities, and in ourselves. We look forward to partnering with all of you to define and build our preferred community together. 

Sincerely,

Claire E. Sterk, President

Gregory L. Fenves, President-elect