A message from Dean Susan Parish

Dean Susan Parish _smaller

Hello. In the College of Health Professions, I affirm that 

  • We reject racism in all its forms, from daily microaggressions to police murders and everything in between;
  • We know racism impacts every facet of physical and mental health, and our College will never be effective in improving the health of individuals and communities without addressing racism; and
  • We know enough about the terrible consequences of racism on the health of individuals, families, and communities to take action NOW. We do not need more research evidence, we need more action. 

In these difficult times, I am gratified to be part of a College and larger VCU community that is committed to being part of the solution to the pandemic that is gripping our country. I am not speaking of the corona virus. I refer to the pandemic of racism. Our nation was built on and with racism. For more than 400 years, people with Black and brown bodies have been sacrificed to create the structures and institutions that exist today in the United States.  And people with Black and brown bodies have been murdered so white oppressors can maintain control. 

Across the country, protests over the past 2 weeks were catalyzed by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. However, we all know George Floyd is just the most recent victim in what is essentially one more wave in an endless ocean of murders. His wave came in, and now we wait, inexorably, for the next one. Knowing, of course, there will be a next one, and likely soon. Sadly, the names of these victims have become part of our common knowledge and lexicon: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Tarika Wilson, Gabriella Nevarez, Aura Rosser, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Alexia Christian, Gregory Hill, Mya Hall, Janisha Fonville, Freddie Gray, Natasha McKenna, James Byrd. I could unfortunately go on. 

I believe it is very common for us to evaluate our history, and claim, with pride, some victories. We like to believe racism does not have the deathgrip on our country it did 150, 100 or 50 years ago. Slavery ended. Sharecropping ended. Jim Crow ended. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts became law. Some schools desegregated. We even had an African American President. 

Yet despite all of the progress, the murders of unarmed African Americans continues, unabated, if we are being honest. The great journalist and activist Ida Wells-Barnett documented the myriad lynchings of her time, and how lynching was a tool to control African Americans. I doubt she would see much difference between the murders in her time and ours.

Many of us feel confused, angry, fearful, and even numb. I hope we can use this terrible time to come together, to acknowledge our collective rage at the profound injustice we see. But let us also share hope that we can find meaningful ways to finally end this senseless, racist violence. And not just the violence to the victims themselves and to their families, but the emotional, physical, and mental harm done to everyone in the African American community who lives in fear for themselves and their loved ones. 

We do not all share the same views or life perspectives, but I believe we all understand the significance of compassion, humanity, and justice. My hope is that we can reflect on our lives, our differences, our gifts, and the love that we are all capable of sharing. Our common humanity is most important, not our differences. 

I sincerely thank each of you for making a commitment to become part of the solution to the endemic racism in our nation. We are stronger as a community, and our determination to create the world we want to inhabit can be a reckoning force. I call you to action, and look forward to the listening sessions we will hold in the coming weeks, to transform our ideals into practice in the College of Health Professions.

I’d like to close with a quote from Audre Lorde, a writer I dearly love. Her work seems appropriate as I call each member of our CHP community to action in the antiracist fight for justice: “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision—then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." 

Please take care of yourself, and let’s all take care of each other.

Susan L. Parish, PhD, MSW