Recognize today’s challenges; provide comfort and care

June 1, 2020


If anything is certain in these very uncertain times, it’s that racism exists in our society.

So what does one say when it seems like there might not be anything one can do to immediately fix things? Under normal circumstances, we might hold one another or offer words of encouragement, anything to show that we care. We would be present with one another. Yet, we are denied that at this moment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A collection of recent events – from the newly launched investigation into the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia to the black birdwatcher in Central Park who was threatened by a white woman to the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – have left many of us feeling hopeless, scared, and exhausted.

My request here is that we all, faculty in particular, provide extra flexibility for members of the community who are at their limit because of the ongoing inequities involving so many others. That these challenges around race are occurring in the face of the challenges we are seeing from the pandemic makes it even worse. It is OK to acknowledge our exhaustion, as the coronavirus has pushed our community hard, and we have risen to the occasion beyond what nearly anyone could have imagined.

We are exhausted, but we are resilient, and we are getting there. But the circumstances of the last few days, as well as the general climate around race and justice over the preceding years, decades, and indeed centuries brings into bright relief the continuing inequities within our society. The civil unrest around the George Floyd killing has ripped open the wounds and threatened to grind our exhaustion into despair.

What words can I offer to ameliorate these feelings? None that can authentically speak to the true feelings that only the lived experience of the individual can truly validate. Our faculty, staff, and students of color – particularly our black students – are feeling scared, angry, and they are questioning what the world is doing to address injustice.

Not enough. Never enough.

We each sit with our own thoughts at this moment. We cannot hug each other when we need it most. But what we can do is acknowledge that we are going through this together, and that we must support each other as we can. But we must also recognize that different members of the community will be suffering more than others, and we must recognize that that suffering is born from each individual’s experience and life path.

So, as we bring this term to a close, I request that all faculty recognize that students may be going through a particularly tough period that makes it difficult for them to focus on their schoolwork. As you know, we have already instituted a flexible pass/no-pass structure for all students in all courses. This should provide students with flexibility and solace as they finish out their work. However, I also ask all faculty to be very open if a student requests that they might need a little more time to finish off an assignment that is due this week and to do so without question.

Let’s also make sure we accommodate and care for each other. Our work this spring has required an unprecedented level of flexibility and generosity of spirit. I am very grateful for everyone’s hard work in making that generosity a hallmark of the UO community. Indeed, I sense that we have always felt it as one of our core principles. But now we can be assured that it is a rock upon which we will continue to mount a response to each and every challenge—and a rapidly changing world—together.


Patrick Phillips
Provost and Senior Vice President