Monday, June 1, 2020

Dear UNT faculty and staff,

We are all deeply disturbed and saddened by the tragic events that led to the murder of George Floyd. Once again, we ask why an unarmed black man was killed by a police officer while colleagues looked on without intervening. People of color and white allies everywhere in our country have shown their shock and outrage through protests, and the collective rage people feel has led to more violent actions while we wait for answers. But no answers have been given. 

Thoughtful people everywhere want to see justice and racial equity, and we all hope and pray for an end to the bitter institutional racism to which we all bear witness. While there have been cries of condemnation for these horrific events, there has not been a cohesive national dialogue, and I fear the violent reactions we see are creating yet deeper divides. 

For some of our community members, these events feel all too familiar and there is concern that this could happen to them. Here in Denton, and at UNT, we are not immune to the challenges that the Black Community and law enforcement are facing. A former Black student was stopped at night last week by our campus police for not having a safety light on his bike. After our police confirmed that he had an outstanding warrant, this young man attempted to flee and was arrested after a brief struggle. This is an all too common scene in modern America and calls for all of us to do better as we negotiate the nexus of law enforcement and fear. 

In the fog of peaceful protests and with cities in flames, most of us are isolated from our normal campus connections and, lacking normal dialogue, we respond by listening to emotionally charged and often inaccurate social media. We take sides, and it becomes so easy to “like” or comment in ways that dehumanize those whose views don't match our own.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, we started to take a harder look at our culture, and the impact of discrimination and racism on our campus. That dialogue, and the healthy response to becoming a more intentionally inclusive campus, largely stopped as we took on yet another crisis. Today, I am calling on everyone in our community to show our caring and compassionate values. It is a time to come together - to listen - and to have the difficult and uncomfortable conversations we need to become the inclusive and caring community we aspire to be.

This week, I am inviting our community to rekindle these discussions. Our university will host two Black Lives Matter President's Virtual Town Halls with the first one set for students from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Friday, June 5. The second one is for faculty and staff and will be hosted from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Monday, June 8. The discussions will be framed around the three questions: How are we feeling? How does this relate to my experience at UNT? How can we move forward? Community members can ask questions during the event or send me questions in advance to

As a higher education community, we want peace and racial justice as we continue honestly reckoning with our past. I hope you will join me and other campus leaders in this critical conversation that will help us return to campus as a stronger, more united community that celebrates our diversity, caring nature and commitment to a community where everyone feels equally valued.


Neal Smatresk
UNT President