Ridgewater College shares in the outrage at the senseless death of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020. We support the movement underway calling for broad civic and social change to help us achieve a world where everyone is truly treated respectfully and equally regardless of the color of their skin, socio-economic standing, or any other aspects of an individual’s personal identity.

Diversity is an integral part of a Ridgewater education. Nearly one out of five Ridgewater students comes from an under-served minority population and we strive to instill cultural sensitivity and civic responsibility in all of our students, including requirements for courses related to human diversity, global perspectives, and ethical and civic responsibilities. We are continually seeking ways to build on the opportunities provided by the growing diversity in our college and our communities to prepare our students for success in a global society and to help them create positive, holistic social change in the world around us.

While we encourage active community engagement by our students, faculty and staff, we do not condone violence to address social problems. Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the unrest in our state and nation, particularly the business owners, peaceful protestors, law enforcement, first responders and residents who have been hurt or impacted by the looting and rioting.

As a community college, Ridgewater has a responsibility to respond to this crisis. To begin with, we prepare students to serve as law enforcement officers and we will participate in plans for a system review of the curriculum to identify improvements in that training program.

We are also encouraging greater dialogue in our college about racism and prejudice and we are examining college policies to identify barriers that block access to education and hinder student success. In addition, we are developing a collaborative effort to create a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council this fall on each of our two campuses in partnership with community stakeholders.

We are also fully committed to Minnesota State’s Equity 2030 goal to eliminate all achievement and performance gaps and provide every individual with an equal opportunity for educational success — and we are extending that focus to include workforce participation and community engagement. It will not be enough to achieve equity on our campuses if all of our graduates do not have a genuine opportunity for employment, career advancement and inclusion in our neighborhoods and communities.

On a personal note, I was recently enlightened by concerns expressed about the dramatic contrast between our attention to the COVID-19 crisis and the lesser degree of attention we have historically directed toward racism and prejudice. As a society, we have displayed much more active concern toward COVID-19 than we have about the recurring killing of young black men and the ongoing oppression and mistreatment of people of color and other marginalized groups in our nation.

Is this because COVID-19 threatens all of us, regardless of our skin color, sexual orientation or ability, whereas many of us may not feel personally threatened by racism and inequity? Do many of us simply not see ourselves or our children at risk of being the next George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, so racism, hate crimes or instances of police brutality aren’t a priority for us? Shouldn’t we all be motivated to find ways to ensure the safety and well-being of every human being?

At Ridgewater, we will continue to focus on helping every individual reach their full potential to achieve a better life — especially for those who may feel they have little hope for the future — but it is time for us to proactively own issues of racism and inequity as part of our responsibility as an institution of higher learning.

We are committing our college to this journey on our campuses in Hutchinson and Willmar and we will be developing strategies and initiatives to turn our values and beliefs into action. We will welcome opportunities to share our commitment with community partners, so please reach out to contact me if you have any needs or ideas about how we can work together!

Craig Johnson is president of Ridgewater College in Hutchinson and Willmar.