June 4, 2020
A message to our students, from the faculty and staff of the Criminology, Law and Society Department at George Mason University
The United States has seen increasingly visible and continued acts of horrifying violence against Black people, including most recently the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. These events have occurred within the broader context of the COVID-19 pandemic and Depression-era levels of unemployment. These trends disproportionately impact communities of color around the United States, and produce anger, fear, distrust, frustration, and despair.
We recognize that this is a difficult time for everyone in our community, yet we know that the weight and fatigue associated with these events are disproportionately borne by the Black community. Many of these experiences are recurrent and long-standing realities for African Americans in the U.S. They are deeply rooted in our nation’s troubled history, beginning with the institution of slavery.
Together with our students and the larger Mason community, we are committed to addressing inequality and advancing justice. We must all take responsibility for working toward a fairer, more equitable, and more socially just society.
Included in the mission of the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at Mason is “to develop in our students a critical understanding of the criminal justice system and how that system relates to broader ideas and ideals of justice, equality, and human rights.” We reaffirm our commitment to this mission, not only in educating our students, but in all that we do – both inside and outside of the classroom.
As faculty in a criminology, law and society program, we have a unique ability to inform policy and practice. Through our research, teaching, and advocacy, we will continue to promote the use of scientific evidence and seek new ways to help reform the criminal justice system and reduce pervasive racial inequalities. We also have a responsibility to recognize our own privilege and to actively dismantle barriers to equal access; these are areas in which we and our academic communities have often fallen short. We must ensure that our faculty, staff, classrooms, scholarship, and service include the many voices and perspectives reflected in our diverse student body.
With this message, we acknowledge that we can and must learn and do more. We pledge to take concrete steps in the coming weeks, months, and years to engage in honest (even if uncomfortable) conversations; to increase awareness of the historical and contemporary manner in which race shapes access to safety, opportunity, and prosperity; and to share what we know (and equally as important, what we don’t know) about how systems can be improved and/or changed.
To this end, we are actively developing an action-plan as a department to expand how we address the many issues associated with racism and inequality in the justice system, our academic disciplines, and beyond. Steps that we have discussed include, but are not limited to: a critical review of our mission statement, course offerings, and course materials; continuing our efforts to build a more inclusive and diverse faculty and staff; and events and activities during the academic year that move our commitment forward.
We want to hear from you as we continue to develop our plan to better address these difficult and important issues. We encourage students, alumni, and all members of the Mason community to share their ideas about how we can better meet our mission. Please reach out to any faculty or staff member with your thoughts and comments, or send a message to the departmental email address at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, we wish to remind all of you that we are here for you. If you want to talk, we’ll listen. We see you. We support you. We stand with you.