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Statement from President Houston Davis on Conway Police Dept. incident and update on UCA’s social justice initiatives

Dear UCA Students, Faculty, and Staff:

I came to you in May, following the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, to express my disgust for the atrocities of racism and police brutality, and the broken system that allowed Floyd’s horrific murder and the deaths and abuse of many other people of color all across the country. I come to you today to address the pain and outrage that emanates from yet another unfortunate event involving citizens and police from February 2020, this time much closer to home.

This morning, I was briefed on a situation and later viewed a video released on Facebook by the Conway Police Department (CPD) that showed an altercation between now-deceased Faulkner County resident, Lionel Morris, and officers of CPD. What I saw in the video once Mr. Morris was apprehended troubled me, and I believe others will be troubled as well. Though the Arkansas State Police has concluded its criminal investigation, I was encouraged to learn from Conway Police Chief William Tapley that the entire situation and those involved will undergo a professional standards review.

We love this city, and we expect the highest professional conduct of those who are responsible for protecting it. This video heightens the pain, sadness, and frustration many in our community are already feeling and expressing through the Black Lives Matter movement.

We vow to be a part of the healing process and to help our city emerge a more just and safe home for all its citizens. The commitment we made in May concerning racial and social justice continues with this statement, but this commitment has to go beyond just words in an email, in a social media post, or on a website. You need to hear and see more than words — you deserve to see actions.

Below, I would like to share just some of the concrete steps UCA is taking to address issues of systemic racism, racial and social injustice, and our efforts to keep campus safe through appropriate community policing. Please know that this work is ongoing and will continue to build momentum and recognize that this is a long-term endeavor.

IN THE CLASSROOM: Relative to all the possible programs, services, and activities that UCA students enjoy, the one activity that all UCA students have in common is that they attend classes. Therefore, we are making a conscious effort to reach all of our students in that space and educate them on systemic racism, race, bias, and other issues of diversity. Academic Affairs and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion are working with every college and department to evaluate how our faculty approach these subjects and deliver coursework and content to ensure that students are educated around these issues. We are also working to ensure that faculty have the training and tools to handle and facilitate difficult conversations about race in their classrooms. Related to all of this work, the UCA Library has developed resources to support anti-racist teaching in the classroom, and the Center for Teaching Excellence will soon unveil a resource page for inclusive pedagogy.

Additionally, we want to make students more aware of the resources available through the UCA Office of Diversity and Community, as well as programs and registered student organizations that support our minority community, including the Minority Mentorship Program, Project X, the Black Male Achievement Challenge, and the Latino Student Association, among others.

ON THE UCA POLICE FORCE: Our UCA Police Department understands the importance of trust, positive relationships, and university outreach to high-quality community policing. Likewise, UCAPD is committed to bias-free policing that respects individual rights and dignity. As a part of that commitment, we are actively reviewing the policies of the UCAPD to ensure that appropriate training is in place to maintain these quality standards. To that end, the administration is working with UCAPD to review the training that officers receive, analyze data and context for use of force, and discuss the role of the police department as it relates to the campus free speech policy (Board Policy 406). Additionally, UCAPD will prioritize the hiring of officers that reflect the racial diversity of the UCA campus. Chief John Merguie stands ready to serve as a partner to all registered student organizations and campus departments, and he and his team of officers understand the importance of developing relationships and trust among the campus community.

THROUGH CAMPUS SYMBOLS: We join universities and communities across the country in actively working to remove symbols of oppression on campus. Last Thursday, the UCA Board of Trustees voted to rename Laney-Manion Hall to Manion Hall. Because of Gov. Benjamin Laney’s stance on segregation and denying equal opportunity in education, the Student Government Association, Faculty Senate, Council of Deans, the chemistry department, and more than 30 organizations on campus adopted resolutions or submitted petitions and letters of support to request that the building be renamed Manion Hall. We were pleased the board acknowledged the need to rename this facility, and we are happy we can finally make this long-overdue change.

AMONG FACULTY AND STAFF: UCA recognizes the importance of having faculty and staff that reflect the diversity of our students. One of the most cited concerns in the recent #BlackatUCA hashtag was the observation by students and alumni that they see too few faculty of color in their academic programs. Lack of diversity, in all regards, diminishes our ability to learn, grow, and understand the full spectrum of our shared humanity. Our hiring committees and departments have to be more proactive in expanding the pool of qualified applicants for open positions. Because hiring has slowed locally and nationally due to the economy and to COVID-19, it can take time to see change in the make-up of our employees, but we must make this a multi-year priority. We will all benefit from a more diverse workforce, and so we must continue training our employees to detect their unconscious biases and be informed about how to recruit diverse candidates during all phases of the hiring process. From writing the job description, to advertising the position, to developing interest in our community, and to conducting interviews, we partner with the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and must use best practices to make a more diverse faculty and staff a reality.

The weight of the world is heavy right now, and for many of you, these events are deeply personal. Please know that we see you, we hear you, and we support you. There are no quick fixes or simple solutions for the problems that have plagued our country since its founding. However, I continue to listen and learn from all of you, and I remain committed to open dialogue with students. You have my word that we will take action and make progress every day. We will constantly strive to be a campus where each of our students, faculty, and staff feel safe, understood, and valued. No matter what is happening outside of campus, we will work together to ensure that UCA remains a civil and safe environment for all of us to learn and grow.

Please know that we understand that these are stressful and confusing times. While our UCA Counseling Center is closed to in-person appointments due to COVID-19, teletherapy appointments are available to students. Just call (501) 450-3138 or visit uca.edu/counseling for more information.

Houston Davis
President