By Ariana Alvarado
On the afternoon of Sept. 23, Horrigan Hall was quiet. I slipped into an empty classroom and took out my phone to tune into a news livestream. In this silent classroom, I was alone, but the world around me was buzzing.
Only minutes ago, I and several other Bellarmine students had heard the decision regarding the death of Breonna Taylor and the lack of charges being pressed against the police officers involved.
In the room next to me, I could hear a group of girls crying. Later that day, I myself found solace and community with my friends in our dorm, and tears were shed. Bellarmine has always prided itself on the concept of community and support, and I saw firsthand how true that was. All day, I was inundated with emails expressing support — Campus Ministry, the Office of Identity and Inclusion, the Honors Program — with one particularly impactful message coming from our president, Dr. Susan Donovan.
In response to the news, Bellarmine cancelled classes for the rest of the day and the following day. “As we work together on these and other important measures, I urge you to continue to channel your feelings into constructive action,” President Donovan wrote in her email sent to all students and employees.
As all things seem to be in this day and age, the statement was met with opposing feelings. Many students found the statement to be eloquent, poignant, and responsive to their needs. However, many other students, as well as Bellarmine parents, those in the Louisville community, and even those around the globe, found President Donovan’s statement and cancellation of classes to be anywhere from unnecessary to downright racist.
In the email, Donovan reaches out to white members of the Bellarmine community, saying, “I urge the white members of our Bellarmine community to educate yourselves on systemic racism, recognize your part in it, and work toward inclusion.” This statement sparked some controversy, with some saying that this unfairly targeted white members of the Bellarmine community.
However, I disagree. As a student of color, I felt the statement and the decision to cancel classes were the best responses. This is a very scary time for people of color, especially young black men and women who would have been torn between focusing on schoolwork and mourning or advocating for change in their community. President Donovan’s decision recognizes a key reality in our lives: academics must sometimes be put on hold for a greater purpose. While we can miss a day and a half of classes and life can still go on, life does not go on for victims of police brutality and their families. This decision allowed students to take the time to mourn, protest, speak up on social media or in their community, visit their families, and ultimately do whatever they need to heal and regroup before getting back to business.
Furthermore, President Donovan acted in the explicitly stated interest of hundreds of students; prior to the grand jury decision, there was a mass email to President Donovan, Honors Director Dr. Blandford, Dr. Helen Grace Ryan and others, asking for a cancellation of classes following the decision for the previously mentioned reasons. I myself participated in this mass email. I knew that as a person of color, I would want this time to be with my family, mourn in peace, and connect with my newfound Bellarmine community.
As an institution that has participated in the fight for equality and justice for decades, it would be unjust for Bellarmine to simply continue classes and ignore what is going on right outside their front door. By cancelling classes, President Donovan acknowledged the civil unrest, mixed emotions, chaos, and uncertainty of our world and allowed Bellarmine students to reflect, mourn and come together while being able to give the events their full focus. I support President Donovan’s actions, and encourage every Bellarmine student, regardless of their position, to make their voices heard.