May 29, 2020

A Message from SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras


To the SUNY Empire community, 

I’ve heard from many in our community about several recent troubling events that tear at the fabric of our country.  

In Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man on a run, was gunned down by men following him in trucks. The video is hard to watch. What he must have felt is unknown, but I cannot imagine the terror he must have felt as he desperately fought for his life. 

Then there was the recent video of a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinning George Floyd, a black man — who was handcuffed and restrained on the ground — by the neck for nearly 10 minutes, eventually killing him. Again, this is a difficult video to watch as Mr. Floyd was pleading for his life as he lay dying on the ground — his breath taken from him on camera and in broad daylight.

These two events lay bare wounds that remain open from the earliest days of this country. They force us to confront questions about racism, about the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color, and about our collective responsibility to bind up these wounds.  

These are deeply troubling events. On a personal level I’m disgusted and anguished by what happened — and even more so by the chilling understanding that these are only the tip of the iceberg; these are the events that were caught on camera. We’d be foolish to think there are not similar incidents of violence and oppression that we never see. 

But we did see these. And now we have a responsibility to do something about it. 

No issue is black or white — they more often lie in various shades of gray. Most in law enforcement serve with the highest integrity. Police officers put their lives on the line daily, and too often many die in the line of duty, never having that chance to see their families and loved ones one more time. Those men who hunted down Mr. Arbery are but a minority among us. The fact, however, is that it only takes a small number of people to infect the entire community like a cancer. And a cancer grows unless we stop it.  

So what can we do? Are we helpless in the face of these larger societal, historical forces? No. It is our obligation to stop this. It starts with education. As I stated in my inaugural address, progress is not made by walling ourselves off, rejecting the pursuit of truth and knowledge, or tearing others down; it's made by pulling each other up, giving voice to the voiceless, and exploring new ideas. We must reject the growing homily of hate and replace it with the homily of hope. 

And we must do so loudly and forcefully.

So, let us as a community respond how we respond best: with open dialogue and by engaging our community. Let’s stop the cancer of hate. Let’s set a better course. Let us do it together. Many of you in the SUNY Empire community have already begun to take action and know that we will stand with you as a community to make real the promise of America. 


Jim Malatras