A Movement and a Moment: Black Lives Matter at PSU

Two hundred and thirty-three years after the Constitutional Convention, we continue to strive “to form a more perfect union.” This year represents a watershed toward the goals of racial justice and reconciliation, both nationally and at Plymouth State University.

“The discrimination that permeates our country in so many subtle ways hurts us all, and we are all diminished by it.”

—President Donald Birx

The PSU community joined the nation in recoiling in horror from the brutal death of George Floyd in May. In a public statement, President Donald Birx shared how it filled him with both sadness and anger. “The discrimination that permeates our country in so many subtle ways hurts us all, and we are all diminished by it,” he said. “It astounds and baffles me that in the midst of a virus ripping through the country, there is still a penchant for hate, prejudice, and tearing down others. Our response must be to continue the ongoing effort to treat each other with love and care.” (President Birx’s full statement can be read at http://go.plymouth.edu/DLB-statement.) 

Office of Minority Student Resources

The Office of Student Life, with the help of many faculty and staff members, has worked hard to create a more diverse and inclusive environment, especially for underrepresented groups and students of color. “Throughout the summer, we all witnessed the nation push back on the racial injustices that have and continue to plague our country,” says Director of Student Life Tevis Bryant. “After discussing these tragedies in depth, we asked: What can we do at PSU?”

Over the course of several meetings, it was evident that PSU needed to provide more opportunities and resources for students of color. Hence, the new Office of Minority Student Resources has been set up in a high-traffic area of the HUB, serving as a “one-stop shop.” Resources will include cuisine, hair care, and on/off-campus engagement suggestions, along with minority scholarship information, connections with leadership organizations (Manchester BLM, NAACP, etc.), mentorship and community building opportunities, educational diversity training, workshops, and more.

“Protest Portraits” Feature Our Community

This fall saw the campus installation of “Protest Portraits” by internationally acclaimed portrait photographer Maundy Mitchell. The exhibit consisted of life-size images from Black Lives Matter demonstrations that took place this summer on the Plymouth Town Common.

“We are seeing profound cultural change in the US,” says Mitchell. “Urgent calls are being made to examine systemic racism in our country, and our tiny town in the mountains of New Hampshire is not an exception.”

Jessica Dutille ’03, ’04MBA, ’20EdD, director of the Office of Community Impact, and Michael Heitz ’13, administrative assistant of the Museum of the White Mountains (MWM), were among those photographed. “We are passionate about human rights and want to make sure it’s in our community and our world,” said Dutille, and Heitz explained, “I’m here to listen and to learn, and to show support for an equitable future.” Depicted members of the PSU community also included Michael Cuddihy ’09, MWM Director Cynthia Cutting, and Sydney Maville ’20. Mitchell, the photographer, is the spouse of Professor of Theatre, Theatre Design, and Technology Matt Kizer.

The exhibit can be viewed online at maundymitchell.com/protest-portraits. 

Task Force Recommendations

At PSU, the issues raised nationally prompted reexamination of our campus climate, and a Black Lives Matter Task Force considered ways to be more welcoming and supportive of students of color. A key proposal is to develop a Plymouth State University Center for Diversity, to be integrated into the Cluster Learning Model and to serve as a resource for northern New Hampshire and beyond. The task force also recommended a cabinet-level position to provide campus-wide leadership and guidance on equity and inclusion. In October, Plymouth presented that concept to the USNH Board of Trustees and received approval to conduct a search for the position. We look forward to this new opportunity to better serve our students, staff, and faculty of color in the coming year.