Wednesday, July 22, 2020

UIS Perspectives: Working together for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

The following is an excerpt from a column by Justin Rose, University of Illinois Springfield director of diversity and inclusion. This column appeared in The State Journal-Register on July 20, 2020.

When it was written in 1776 ”... that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” it was surely the most amazingly written expression in the Declaration of Independence. Sadly, our country’s practice of that document, the Constitution, and the Amendments to follow did not necessarily reflect that message.

Over the past 244 years, we have witnessed these words being selectively applied to uniquely advantage one group over another, as much of our history has its connection to the creation and implementation of slavery. In short, slavery in America has been a system in which property law principles are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy, and sell other individuals as a form of property. Over the lifespan of America’s development, we have seen this system morph due to many brave, courageous, and servant leaders who fought against the intense overt oppression and subversive suppression. Decade after decade, these Davids of our time took on the Goliath of our nation — racism.

America’s issues are vast and people want to see change, particularly our traditionally marginalized and underrepresented communities. I, myself, subscribe to that notion. As a Black male working at an institution of higher education, I have witnessed my students expressively say they feel they live in an America that does not love them.

Those words scream out to me a much louder message. To me, they place attention on what our America’s history has been and why we all need to stand up for the rights of those who are continuously scraped, cut, and gashed — left to bleed. I firmly believe, in order to begin healing, we have to stop the bleeding. With that as the chorus in mind, we need to seek to apply the doctrine the way it was so eloquently written so that we can see reflected an America that pulls people from the margins into the larger picture — thus allowing for real opportunity at Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

At UIS, we have decided to not turn a blind eye and to recommit ourselves to the alignment of the doctrine. The recent national events of racial injustice have reawakened the world and have been front and center for us. We are ensuring our students, staff, faculty, and administrators (myself included) are not ignoring the long history, practice, and ideology of systemic racism. Standing firm with the Black community and other marginalized groups who are deeply entrenched in the fight towards justice is our fight.

Listening to our campus community’s experiences has prompted the launch of our comprehensive “How Do We Heal Pathway Forward” resource guide, which can be found at The guide is designed to be interactive/clickable/digestible for people to learn. It has video features, web links to learn how to be anti-racist, and web links to enhance civic involvement. But equally as important, it has the framework for our “Where We Can Go” Diversity Mini-Series. The July Diversity Mini-Series is now entering its third week with programs addressing the current civil unrest on issues of Race, Police Brutality, and Allyship.

We believe that exploring these topics and helping our students, staff, faculty, and administrators through our weekly discussion opportunities is helping us move forward together. We believe it is a part of the formula to help shape a community rooted in equity, justice, and inclusion — you know, like the declaration that was so eloquently indoctrinated for our nation to follow.