Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A call to action and introspection

By Director and Professor Susan Webb Yackee

The killing of George Floyd, along with the many Black and Brown people who came before him, is a call to action, as well as to introspection. Given that public policy at the national, state, and local levels in the United States has been consistently and doggedly a driver of racism, unequal treatment, and subjugation, it makes sense that the La Follette School ought to engage. Indeed, we must.

I also want to acknowledge that before we can move forward, we must find a way to process the anger, frustration, and helplessness that comes with violence as well as ongoing oppression. The visual of George Floyd’s death—with a knee to his neck and being literally held down by the “state”—is revolting, but it is also powerful at a metaphorical level.  As students of public policy, we all are trained to see patterns and analyze evidence, but we must also see how this recent tragedy epitomizes so many other ways in which racism and hate manifest themselves in government and policy.

We need to come together to understand this tragedy and the unfolding issues attached to it. That’s why Associate Professor Geoffrey Wallace and I, as leaders of the School, will be convening a virtual School meeting for those that want to have a space to discuss, listen, and process. We don’t expect this meeting to be a panacea. Indeed, quite the opposite: it will be opportunity for all who want to engage, to build community, and to share ideas. I also hope that this may be a brainstorming session for ways in which the La Follette School can serve as a convener on the public policy problems at play in these issues, as well as the best practices, evidence, and solutions. Doing so is core to the School’s mission.

I also am announcing a special diversity and inclusion “task force” at the La Follette School. This one-year task force will be a faculty, staff, graduate student, and undergraduate committee to study and make recommendations on ways to improve diversity and inclusion at the School. This task force comes out of the School’s 2019-20 strategic planning process, where inclusivity was identified as one of the School’s core values. Planning for this task force has been in the works for months; its work will begin this fall.

In the days and weeks ahead, we must keep the issues that confront Black and Brown people in society and at our School at the front of our minds, and we must work to make the future better than the past.