On Tuesday, University of Texas at El Paso President Heather Wilson released a statement regarding the death of George Floyd and the conversations occurring at the school.
George Floyd was killed last week by someone sworn to protect him – someone sworn to protect all of us and the liberties we enjoy. It was evil and ugly. And as Mr. Floyd begged to be allowed to breathe, other officers stood by and did nothing.
Over the past week, I’ve been reflecting, like a lot of Americans. What should we do – and what should I do – in the face of evil? Americans are understandably very angry, and some have chosen to protest. The right to protest is among our most cherished freedoms, and I respect all who do so nonviolently.
Over the last few days, I have met with small groups of UTEP students, faculty, staff and alumni. I talked to them about their experiences at UTEP and in El Paso to learn if there were concerns about racism on our campus, and particularly in our campus police force.
I was pleased that, generally, people feel safe here, and they don’t think that there is a problem in the UTEP police force. “El Paso is different,” several told me. Still, many feel like “a minority in a minority” and “sometimes invisible.” Not all of our students know where to go or what to do if they have a problem, and many of them had ideas about how to make things better.
It’s up to all of us to ensure our country lives up to the ideals of a free and equal society, and there will be much that we will need to do in the coming months – as individuals and as a campus community.
To begin with, I will be asking our Student Government Association, our Faculty Senate, and our Staff Council to recommend campus colleagues who will work with our Chief of Police to review our policies, procedures, practices and training so that we continue to build trust between the UTEP Police Department and those whom they are sworn to protect. Good organizations always try to be better.
UTEP has a proud legacy of breaking down barriers, as music professor Engebret Thormodsgaard did in 1956 when he cast 20-year-old Bernice Bell to play the heroine opposite a white man in an opera production staged in Magoffin Auditorium; and as Don Haskins and our men’s basketball team did in 1966 at the NCAA national championship, forever changing college athletics in this country. UTEP was the first baccalaureate institution in Texas to desegregate; we have a legacy of creating opportunities for those historically underserved by higher education in America, with a student body that is over 90% minority in a top tier research university.
UTEP will remain true to our legacy by doing good in the face of evil.