On July 7, 10 of our incoming first-year students, all of them African-American, were stopped by the Clayton police. Because of a poorly executed series of next events, our students were left feeling scared, humiliated, intimidated and targeted because of their race. Since then, I and my administration have been focused on two priorities: strongly expressing to the city of Clayton our anger over what had occurred, and intervening on behalf of our students and supporting them.
On Tuesday, I met personally with Mayor Harold Sanger, City Manager Craig Owens and Police Chief Kevin Murphy to reiterate my feelings directly. I made clear that I expected our students would receive an apology that demonstrated Clayton understands the impact this had on our students. I also stated that the city must take steps to ensure that nothing like this happens again, to anyone.
On Thursday, Owens and Murphy heard directly from some of our students who were involved. I have great admiration for our students’ maturity, fortitude and candor. They are truly remarkable. I had hoped that this kind of dialogue with the city would open city leaders’ eyes, open their hearts and open their minds, and it did.
I do not know, in my lifetime, if I will see a day when young African-Americans aren’t counseled by their parents to be cautious of the police out of fear that something could go wrong. However, I am hopeful that by speaking up and speaking out and committing ourselves to change — on our campuses, in Clayton and in the surrounding St. Louis region — we can make progress toward that day. The university will be an active partner with the city of Clayton to implement the city’s post-incident action plan and build a better future in our community.
At Washington University, we are working very hard to confront racial bias and to become the inclusive community we aspire to be. Situations like this embolden us to redouble the effort.
Mark Wrighton is chancellor of Washington University.
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