Statement from Dean Zayas: Challenges and resolve in these times

We have all felt pain in the killing of George Floyd.  I am shocked by the senseless death of Mr. Floyd. I was horrified by the nonchalance of the police officer pressing his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, the lack of empathy from the rest of the police officers, the indifference to the pleas of the crowd, and the chilling indifference to the pain, fear and distress of another human being. I am most haunted by Mr. Floyd’s desperate call for his mother as his life was being taken.

Mr. Floyd is yet another Black man to lose his life to brazen and systemic acts of racial violence in our country. We have been outraged by the recent killings of African Americans, whether it was Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, or George Floyd, just three of the dozens of killings in the past decade, many caught on video. The protests that have erupted across our nation are a sign of the anguish and frustration that so many people feel—regardless of race, ethnicity, or other identity. As a citizen and social worker, I support the protests and protesters.

As dean, I have written messages like this one before. Whether it was a message about the attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh or in a Walmart in El Paso, each message is very hard to write. Words simply cannot express what we as a community feel.

But our fundamental values about caring for human life should sustain us. We believe in equity, respect, and justice. I know we will never deaden our hearts to the pain that so many people experience. The Steve Hicks School faculty and students will continue fighting for equity and justice.  We will continue to push forward for understanding, empathy, and genuine change. Black lives matter.  Everywhere.  Black lives matter in Minneapolis.  In Austin.  At UT.  And in the Steve Hicks School.

As a school dedicated to social justice, the killing of Mr. Floyd and the protests that have ensued—all in the context of a global pandemic and a crisis in national leadership—raise the bar for what and how we teach and learn. The injustices we witness, so much a part of our country’s history, should spur us to become stronger social justice advocates and warriors. To confront injustice and violence, each of us must engage with the world, acting with resolve to make our world better.

While I trust that no one at the Steve Hicks School will ever become indifferent to human suffering, we must also remain attentive to the colleagues, students, and friends at UT and within our school that surround us. We are hurting and it is up to us to embrace each other and redouble our commitment to social justice.  It is another moment to come together and stay close and united, even if we have to do it virtually.

Interim UT President, Jay Hartzell, has issued his first message to the university. Not an easy letter to write on his official first day, in it he addresses the turbulent time we are living and its challenge to our university. Diversity officers throughout UT have also written a statement of solidarity.  Associate Dean Equity and Inclusion Esther Calzada shared the diversity officers’ statement and has invited you to reach out to her. But also reach out to each other. Together, the school and university will coordinate and lead important conversations and actions that we need to have if we are to heal ourselves and our country.

Luis H. Zayas, Ph.D.
Dean, Steve Hicks School of Social Work