Apology for admin racial injustice statement

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The following letter is written in reference to a statement released by the University in June following the death of George Floyd and the civil unrest in the country.

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, MN, sparking protests across the country and around the world.  As covered in the Oct. 8 issue of the Marlin Chronicle, statements were released from Virginia Wesleyan University regarding this unrest.  This came in the form of a statement made in the President’s Letter sent out on June 1 and this statement again shared on social media platforms on June 2.  In the letter that follows, Chief Marketing Officer Stephanie Smaglo addresses allegations of plagiarism concerning this statement made by the University.

Letter to the Editor

Black Lives Matter: An Apology

In late May I watched in disbelief and horror along with the rest of the country as George Floyd was killed. The vacant, yet almost amused, look in that officer’s eyes as he knelt on Floyd’s neck still haunts me. As do the deaths of the many others whose lives have been lost at the hands of individuals meant to be trusted and keep us safe.

Organizations across the country began issuing statements right away about the racial injustices and civil disparities blanketing our communities, and Virginia Wesleyan was no different. Our campus community needed to hear the University’s position. 

I will be the first to admit that I was ill-equipped to write about this. As a white woman I can not begin to understand the experiences of Black Americans. I can read about them. I can listen to Black friends and colleagues. I can feel the deepest sympathy and burn with compassion, but I can’t ever truly understand. And I know that. And I knew in that moment that I didn’t have the words to appropriately offer the support our community needed regarding the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and the injustices of those who are affected by racial inequalities every day. 

It was then that I made an extremely poor decision. An institution I admire, an institution I attended, released a statement that eloquently expressed what I thought needed to be said to our campus community about the state of our country.

Because I didn’t have the words myself, I chose to use phrases from this institution’s statement and repurpose the thoughts as our own. I am sorry and do apologize from deep within my heart. It was wrong, and I hold much regret that I will carry with me all my days. 

Please know that although these words were not mine, the intent was not to deceive, and it was not a decision made out of carelessness or disregard. It was a decision made because I felt that our community—our students, our alumni, our faculty and staff—deserved more than what I was capable of saying in my own words.

The confusion, pain, and outcry that followed underscored just how unqualified I was to address this particular topic. Please know that the omission of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was not meant to depreciate the cause, but rather was meant to be inclusive of all who have historically had to endure hate, prejudice, discrimination and violence”—including members of our Black communities, our Hispanic and Latino communities, Middle Easterners, Asians, those who identify as LGBTQ and anyone who has ever felt discriminated against for the color of their skin or their individual preferences. I know now that this was not made clear in that original statement, and it was perhaps the wrong time to focus on this broader demographic. 

A few days following the original statement, I did write, in my own words, a second message that was released to the VWU community. In this message I hoped to convey my regret for any insensitivity, any tone deafness, any pain caused by the original statement. And I stand by those words:

“We hear the pain in your voices. We hear the desperation in your cries. We hear you. We see you. We support you. We look to you for guidance. There is much work to be done by all, and we stand committed to doing the right thing.”

As I said, I will carry this lesson with me all my days. My heart, mind, and arms are open. I want to learn from those around me and be a source of support and care. I believe we are in a beautiful place, at Virginia Wesleyan and as a family, to lift one another up and create positive and much-needed change.

—Stephanie Smaglo