June 15, 2022
Dear Stony Brook University community,
I hope everyone is enjoying the summer, and that you’ve been able to spend quality time with family and friends. In advance of the holiday weekend, I wanted to wish everyone a happy Juneteenth and honor this important federal holiday, which is recognized this year on Monday, June 20. Classes will not be in session, and academic and administrative offices will be closed.
As you may know, Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865 — the day when Union soldiers arrived in Texas to proclaim freedom for the remaining enslaved people in the state. This happened more than two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and Texas was the last Confederate state to comply with freeing slaves after the Civil War.
This historic event was felt across Galveston — the city along the Texas Gulf Coast where the Union soldiers first arrived — and across the country. Although Juneteenth marks our country’s second day of independence and just became a national holiday last year, it has been celebrated for decades by many African Americans.
As a historian, much of my scholarly work has involved researching the legacies that stem from slavery’s deep roots and their connection to our country’s overarching racial justice movement. And as president of Stony Brook, I spend a lot of time thinking about how important it is to help chart a path toward a more inclusive future as it pertains to higher education. To me, this federal holiday is both an opportunity to reaffirm how our academic mission includes providing access to education for all people, as well as a chance to remember all that an education can do. Everyone has a right to learn. Everyone has a right to celebrate, question, reflect, connect, and grow.
There is still more work to do. It has been more than two years since our country and the rest of the world reeled in horror at the murder of George Floyd. The protests and demonstrations that followed revealed what African Americans have experienced for decades: unequal treatment under the law, and an unacceptable lack of equity in some of our most fundamental institutions. As an institution of higher education and a university that is cultivating some of the most thoughtful young leaders of this generation, it is our responsibility to change that.
I am grateful that Stony Brook University is an institution that honors diversity, equity, and inclusion, and works hard to create an educational environment where our faculty, staff, and students can feel valued and supported. As we celebrate this new federal holiday, I hope we can honor the history, inspiration, and resilience of African Americans who have fought so long for justice. And I hope we can ask ourselves what we all can do — every day — to support freedom and equality for all.