Race and Renewed Conviction

Written by Jeffery Smith, Director of the Center for Business Ethics
June 8, 2020

With our friends, peers, students, faculty and administrators across Seattle University, the Center for Business Ethics recognizes that we have a responsibility to confront injustice and affirm the dignity of Black Americans. While the work before us is ongoing, if admittedly late, it is also a time to recognize that the challenges we face are something that Seattle University, and the Center for Business Ethics, are prepared to undertake.

The strength exhibited by the University’s students of color in the last two weeks provides us ample motivation. Not only are they completing remote courses during a pandemic—demonstrating a commitment to their own learning—they are balancing these responsibilities with the very real need to assert their humanity in public.

The University’s faculty remains a tremendous resource for actionable ideas. Last week Professor Bryan Adamson of the Law School hosted an online “George Floyd Teach-In,” which explored the avenues for justice within the American legal system and the ways that that same system allows for, and protects, violence. We may be at a key moment where large-scale policy changes are forthcoming. This recorded discussion is therefore not just timely, but grounded in the University’s call for all of us to be informed, critically aware citizens.

Discussion begins at 10:21

To this, add ongoing faculty research. The work of former Center Faculty Fellow and Patricia Wismer Professor in Gender and Diversity, Holly Ferraro, is an example of scholarship around the study of race and respect for marginalized perspectives. In a recent meeting of the Northwest Ethics Network, she asked participants how members of teams, organizations and communities come to feel safe when they are different. What does physical, psychological and social safety look like, in practice? Professor Ferraro’s work is more apt than ever. It begins to provide guidance in how we can begin to share experiences, address difficult decisions, and allow for organizational practices that ensure feelings of safety for everyone. Here she discusses some of this work in a University Red Talk.


This faculty work is facilitated by the University’s larger commitment to equity, inclusion and the mission of educating the whole person. Although this year’s mission day was put on hold due to COVID-19, the 2019 event, hosted by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, was powerful and shouldn’t be forgotten. Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson visited campus to speak about whiteness, black identity and the often forgotten social history behind these realities. In the midst of the calls for action being demanded in the streets across the country, his work is worth revisiting to keep us centered. Here he is in a Seattle Town Hall event discussing his book Tears We Cannot Stop.


There are surely other examples from across the University to draw upon. Students, faculty and University leadership have created an environment where we can understand the world and cultivate our moral imagination. But our work continues.

One central idea, which is emphasized throughout campus life at Seattle University, is that racism and racial injustice are not simply matters of individual choice or of individual character. They are that; but they are also fundamentally problems with our basic institutions and—as Richard Rothstein extensively documents in his recent book The Color of Law—how those institutions have been deliberately crafted.

Last week I watched filmmaker Ava DuVernay forcefully make a version of this point in a PBS News Hour special. Our individual responsibilities at this moment must involve our focus on the systems and organizational cultures that are at the heart of the problem. More than ever, the Center, along with University faculty and many of our external partners, need to continuously and critically expose how things such as social welfare policy, city planning, corporate conduct, tax regimes and norms of law enforcement are both expressions—and causes—of racism.

The Center welcomes the opportunity to share its time and energy with others and, in the process, learn. Let’s continue with renewed conviction.


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