I would like to take this opportunity to update you on activity resulting from last week’s demonstration through Pembroke. Knowing the hurt, concern and pain felt and expressed by our students, alumni, families and so many in our community makes our path forward a long one, but one we are wholly committed to following.
I want to be very clear about this fact. The march last Friday was organized solely by a group of UNCP students with no outside influence or involvement. These students, along with supporters from the university and community, were those who participated in the march and it was these students and supporters who were attacked and harassed.
Over the past week, I’ve met with some of the organizers of the march and other student leaders. We’ve had good conversations that will continue. One leader asked the question “do we want a moment, or do we want momentum.” This is a time for momentum. The outcome of the students’ protest is that conversations are going on with leaders on many levels in positions of influence, and we have the very real opportunity to make positive change on the issue of racism in our town and our county.
I recognize many of you, especially our students and their families, have concerns for your personal safety on campus and in the community. Last week’s event has sparked a series of critical actions to work diligently to ensure our students are safe.
I can report that local law enforcement, Town officials and the Robeson County District Attorney have informed me of ongoing investigations into individuals who engaged in threatening and violent behavior last week. In some instances, arrests are imminent. And yesterday, in response to information received from many sources, the Town of Pembroke issued an emergency declaration. While we continue to support peaceful demonstration, this order allows our community to calmly engage in the necessary constructive dialogue to instigate real change rather than incite violence. To protect our students, faculty and staff, the university is following the same provisions as the Town, with a curfew in place from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Several weeks ago, following the murder of George Floyd, I met with campus safety and police leadership to talk about our policies and procedures, and we reviewed our use of force protocols. This week, I charged them with the development of a plan for increasing the security of our campus and off-campus student housing. They have already increased patrols on campus and our surrounding properties. Coordination is ongoing with local law enforcement regarding community safety. Our campus and local safety officers protected our marchers last Friday and are committed to continuing those efforts for our students. To create a more meaningful partnership and enhance communication with students, we’re arranging professional training for officers in culturally responsive practices and many other areas.
This week, I have also met with many administrative, student and alumni leaders, the Town of Pembroke Mayor and Council, and a diverse group of professional thought leaders from across Robeson County. We are scheduling a meeting of our student leaders with the Town Council for them to directly hear student thoughts and concerns. We have spoken with the Pembroke Chamber of Commerce leadership who plan to ask the membership to consider ways to address student safety in their stores and businesses. I continue to hear from a growing number of community members who are hurt and disappointed in what happened and are offering their support for our students and their genuine desire to find a way forward together.
These events have sparked action on our campus with faculty and staff looking for opportunities to enhance inclusivity in our learning environment and a deeper understanding of other cultures and perspectives, and that starts with open and respectful dialogue. Beyond personal safety, students need to feel welcome and accepted in the classroom and every corner of our campus. Just yesterday, a group of more than 100 faculty members met with me to discuss how they can contribute and make an impact on the daily lives of our students. We are working to bring additional culturally-responsive learning opportunities and teaching strategies to the forefront of our plans moving forward.
Is it a moment we want, or do we want momentum? The profoundness of that question for these times is so impactful. We may not totally end racism tomorrow, but we can make progress, lay out a path, and we can be on the right side of history at this moment to create real momentum for the future.
As Chancellor, I assure you we will use this ugly time to affect change in this place we call home, but that must come through peaceful and informed conversation. We are going to take this opportunity to show the world we can be better by meeting the challenge to do better. We will strive to be one Pembroke that includes and values those who have long called it home, our faculty, students and staff. Our desire is to be a community of individuals who respect each other and all find an equal opportunity to succeed.
I am here because of my students. Their success is my primary goal and we will work hard every day to bring about meaningful change and ensure the safety of our UNCP campus.
Robin Gary Cummings, MD