Commemorating Juneteenth, 2020

Today, June 19, 2020, we observe Juneteenth. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending to slavery in the United States. From its origin in Galveston, Texas in 1865, this is a deeply important observance as the African American Emancipation Day.

We retain a deep sadness that this end to the abhorrent acts of slavery, is yet to result in equality and justice for African American people. The College of Science stands against racial violence and systemic injustice against Black people. We stand for equality and justice within our College, and within Northeastern University. We stand for a culture where each person is respected and valued, with action towards racial equality and justice.

Our College marks this important day with a letter from the College of Science Student Diversity Advisory Council (COS SDAC), that discusses the abhorrent way Black people have been treated in the name of Science. Disrespect and exclusion of Black people from the best medical research and health care continues. Our students encourage accountability and an ethical framework. I fully support these sentiments, and I am proud to have such thoughtful students in the College of Science. Together, we can move our College forward in respectful and productive ways.

We suggest the following readings and visual materials, that will further help you mark Juneteenth.

  1. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, Ms Morrison’s writing is like music. This book drew me into a world wrought with the horror of slavery, and the love of a mother. It is ranked as the best American work of fiction between 1981 and 2006.

2. 13th

This 2016 Netflix documentary by director Ava DuVernay, is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865. This duplicitous amendment abolished slavery, except as punishment for conviction of a crime. DuVernay contends that slavery has been perpetuated since then, through criminalizing behavior and enabling police to arrest and incarcerate African American people.

3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

This 2017 movie relates to our COS SDAC students’ letter (attached) that discusses the harvesting and use of Ms Lacks cells without permission, for medical and experimental purposes. My Ph.D. thesis work was based on HeLa cells, but there was no discussion in my training as to the ethics surrounding these.

Yesterday, I announced appointment of Prof. Randall Hughes as the first Associate Dean for Equity in our College. I am thrilled to have Prof. Hughes’ leadership, that will help us move toward an Action Plan for Racial Equity. We must map out strategies to promote a culture of respect; to increase representation of Black students, faculty and staff in the College; and to ensure equal opportunities for employment, training and promotion.