The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers set off protests and uprisings in Minnesota, across the country, and across the world this spring, leading to the most significant civil unrest in the US in half a century. All of this has taken place against the backdrop of a global pandemic and a striking economic downturn, dual crises that, while being felt by all, have had a disproportionate impact on people of color. While the killings of George Floyd and many others may be the sparks that ignited the protests, their root causes are much larger: centuries of racism, discrimination, and White supremacy.

College of the Atlantic is unequivocally opposed to racism and White supremacy. We condemn the actions of the police who killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, and too many other people of color to list. We condemn police everywhere who have provoked and attacked peaceful protesters, and we stand in solidarity with those protesting around the world.

To our Black community members, your lives matter. To our Brown community members, to all people of color, to our Indigenous community members, your lives matter. With the position of privilege my whiteness brings, I cannot fully imagine what you are feeling now. But I want you to know that I see you. I will listen to and believe you. I am so grateful you are a member of this community. The college stands with you.

We’ve heard from many alumnx during this period, and a message has come through loud and clear: COA can and must commit to engaging deeply with the ways in which our institution is complicit in perpetuating racism and White supremacy. We can and must do better at addressing structural racism on all levels of our institution and within our community. I’m grateful for the call to action. I have read about and listened to and thought deeply about the some of the painful experiences that have happened in this community in the past, and while nothing we do can remove that pain, we can and must engage with these realities to become a more just and effective institution.

We must envision, articulate, and enact a human ecology that is affirmatively anti-racist, that does not tolerate any form of discrimination or racism, that lifts up Black voices and the voices of other historically under-represented and marginalized groups, that engages a greater range of lived experiences, and that explores with greater depth the historical and institutional racism that has led us to this moment. This should have been a priority when we welcomed our first class in 1971. We are grateful to our community for inspiring us and for holding us accountable.

We have been working on this issue for the past couple of years; the modest work that we’ve done so far is described in this addendum. But we all understand and see the mountains we still need to climb. Work is accomplished at COA through dialogue, iteration, and initiatives that begin in many corners of the college—faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumnx, and partners. That’s a real strength of our college, but can sometimes result in slow progress. I recognize the need to push more from my position as president, and I commit to doing so.

To begin envisioning what that goal means, what it might look like on the ground, and what it will take to accomplish, one of our key steps is to work with our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategic planning task force (see more on that group below) to develop and prioritize a list of time-stamped goals and action steps for real, structural change across all areas of the institution. This will take the form of an actionable five-year strategic plan to be finalized no later than Spring term of 2021. In the shorter term, we’ll work to share more about our commitment and action, and we’ll hold sessions this summer with our alumnx to inform the work we need to do in the academic year, and will meet with our Black Student Union as soon as possible.

I want to acknowledge that, while I take full ownership of this statement, I did not write these words alone. I am grateful to work with a team of faculty and staff who care deeply about this college, our students, and our community, and who work tirelessly beside me to help steer this institution in a direction that aligns with our mission for making positive, thoughtful, human-ecological change in ourselves and in our world. I have learned that being a leader sometimes means following and always demands listening. Thank you for granting me that immense privilege. Please be kind and generous to each other. Look after each other. And be kind and generous to yourselves.

COA President Darron Collins ’92, on behalf of the President’s Cabinet