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Statement on racial justice

April 21, 2021

By President Steve Bahls, Augustana College

The guilty verdicts in the murder of George Floyd cannot bring back the life of a good man. But the verdicts are a strong and needed signal to the criminal justice community that juries and the broader community demand accountability. 

But I remain disheartened by what we learned from the trial of the police officer who murdered George Floyd, and by the very recent police killings of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo. As a lawyer, I know that bias and discrimination against Black and other historically underrepresented members of our community afflict our criminal justice system. But we do not accept that it has to be this way. It is imperative for all in our criminal justice system to know what we know at Augustana: Black Lives Matter.

As this college’s president, I have seen the hurt and suffering that the events of the past year have inflicted on members of our community, including students, faculty, staff and alumni. Because Augustana’s values inspire us to seek justice and inclusion over privilege and exclusion, I will do all in my power to stand in solidarity especially with Black members of our community. 

Events of recent days and weeks merely amplify patterns of injustice reaching back years and generations. They require all of us to examine ourselves and our communities (including the Augustana community) to determine how we can help make the needed changes to ensure that our nation and our communities treat all with respect, humanity and dignity. We all need to ask: where have we failed, and why? How can we individually and collectively address these failures?

I have learned from this generation of college students that making progress toward the dream of racial justice and equity is not enough. We need to achieve that dream and achieve it quickly. We need to hold ourselves accountable. We need to hear from and learn from each other. I am confident we have the courage to do so. 

I am committed to do all I can during my remaining time as president in advancing Augustana’s commitment to address these pressing justice issues in our communities and calling on others to do the same. This includes asking the Augustana College Board of Trustees to measure its strong commitment to equity against national best practices, while encouraging our faculty and administration to find additional ways to address issues of equity and justice in and out of classes.

It also means continuing to use my knowledge as a lawyer to advocate for needed criminal justice reforms, and leveraging my position as a leader in the Quad Cities to advocate for equity.

But most of all, I am committed to listening to and learning from the stories and life experiences of members of the Augustana community, particularly those from underrepresented groups, to ensure this community continues to move forward.

History will remember this as a time when collective conscience and courage defined not just who we were, but who we were to become. Let it be remembered as a time when we redefined the soul of America to center on justice, equity and inclusion for all. Working together, I believe we can and I believe we will.