June 1, 2020

Dear Members of the Bellarmine Community,

I vividly remember working on a college campus in Baltimore during the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray at the end of April 2015. The campus was approximately five miles from West Baltimore and the Baltimore uprising. It was surreal to sit on a beautiful campus quadrangle, feeling a palpable sense of our Catholic mission and hunger for justice and an overwhelming sense of commitment to the city of Baltimore. Clearly, five years later there are still deep and systemic inequities that have not been addressed and that our black community members live with daily.

Today, Louisville faces similar challenges to Baltimore, as do most cities across the nation. The tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd should pain all of us and ignite us to work for justice in our workplace, in our neighborhoods and in our city. Unfortunately, most of us are silent bystanders to the inequity in our country’s healthcare, economic, educational and criminal justice systems. We have no idea of the immediate and lasting impact or the overwhelming prevalence of systematic racism on African Americans in our community and beyond. Promoting compliance with leash laws in a park while you are bird-watching should not result in having the police called on you. Sleeping in your apartment at night, jogging in a neighborhood or paying for something at a market should not result in your death. We should all be outraged by these occurrences, and so many more. 

Our Bellarmine mission and our strategic plan call upon us to demonstrate a fully realized and lived commitment to equity and inclusion and to be an engaged partner with the City of Louisville. We must stand up and speak out against these injustices and focus on what we can do as a community to embrace our shared commitments. Clearly, we all have much work to do.

I am grateful that Dr. DJ Mitchell becomes our inaugural chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer effective today, June 1. I know Dr. Mitchell will be a catalyst, a convener and a leader—but we cannot make progress without everyone’s individual work and commitment. As president, I commit to working with Dr. Mitchell, with our Advisory Board on Equity and Inclusion, and with our entire Bellarmine community to fulfill the plan outlined by students on our campus last year and to develop further plans to improve the lives of all members of our community, our city and our society, especially those at the margins.

This is a calling to our shared commitments that I hope each and every member of our community will answer. I urge you to be safe and careful as you push for positive change, but I also urge you not to be silent. We can—we must—do better.

In solidarity,
Susan M. Donovan, Ph.D.