Dear Emerging Media & Technology Students,
Throughout my time at Kent State University, our students have called for change in the unequal treatment of Black communities. They have honored our university with their activism, their eloquent cries for justice and peace. In the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown Jr. by Ferguson police, students in my first course at Kent State focused their semester-long project on inequalities in policing and violence in Black communities. They created an online campaign to advocate for education and change by connecting their friends and family to online information, resources, and discussion. Halfway through that semester, northeast Ohio found itself in the national spotlight after the heartbreaking police shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy killed in Cleveland, who was carrying a toy gun in a park. In their final presentations, the students spoke with frustration and hope. They reported that the online space they created facilitated difficult conversations but also bridges to mutual understanding.
Two years later on May 4, the 46th anniversary of the 1970 Kent State National Guard shootings at the Commons, Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, gave a moving plea for equity and safety for children growing up in her neighborhood. She linked the May 4, 1970 shootings, her family’s story, and the Black Lives Matter movement. That is, violence from the powerful motivates change through a legacy of activism. As she spoke, Kent State students from the Black United Student group answered this call to action, supporting her in solidarity, facing the audience with their heads bowed in silence.
Today, our students continue to exercise their First Amendment rights as they participate in the ongoing nationwide protests that shine a light on the excessive force used by police in Black communities after the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade. I recognize Black students and students of color from our school are especially impacted by what is happening. To our Black students and students of color, we see you and we hear you.
In the School of Emerging Media & Technology we are committed to respect, diversity, equity, and empathy. The internet, code, and digital media can combine to be powerful tools for justice with the potential to empower marginalized voices to speak truth to power. We see that potential realized as messages and videos about these recent killings are sent around the world, illustrating the horrible consequences of excessive force. These technologies connect activists and citizens across the country who organize to effect change.
At the same time, we recognize that the technology industry must confront bias, inequality, and disparities in its workforce. Similarly, our faculty’s emerging media and technology research and creative activity in areas like incivility, political engagement, environmentalism, education, and well-being shows that technology can too often be biased and benefit those already privileged. So, I welcome a public discussion about undeniable systematic inequalities. I am committed to amplifying voices that expose systematic inequality in our classrooms and to promoting inclusive team- and project-based learning in our school to encourage diverse thinking. I am hopeful to see our students raise their voices for justice. We must continue to listen but also to act on these discussions and rethink our policies and practices.
For links to resources and additional messages from Dean Amy Reynolds and Diversity Director AJ Leu, please visit https://www.kent.edu/cci/justice.