Principal’s message to all St Andrews students and staff

Thursday 4 June 2020
Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews
Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews

Dear Colleagues and Students

I have written to you each week of the Covid-19 crisis, to keep you closely informed, and at the heart of our planning for the start of the new academic year in September.

We have a summer to come between now and then. This long, strange semester is over. However odd these last four months have seemed, and however distant we may all have to remain from normal life in the weeks ahead, I do hope that as many of you as possible are able to find time and opportunity to relax, recuperate, and reflect.

If you cannot take the time now, I hope you are at least able to plan to take it, circle those dates in the diary in bright ink, and hold them sacrosanct. We are all going to have to work even harder when the time comes to ensure our University transitions safely through what we hope will be the final stages of the Covid crisis.

I have urged reflection alongside rest, because the inequalities which the pandemic is exploiting ruthlessly in almost every country have been thrown into sharp and painful relief in the US this week where the murder by police of George Floyd has ignited a wave of just protest against systemic racism.

I know this has had a profound impact on some of you, especially our students, and a number of you have written to me and senior colleagues demanding that St Andrews makes a public statement condemning racism.

We are a global community in St Andrews. When things happen in Minneapolis, or Hong Kong, or Paris, or Nova Scotia, or Bradford, or here in Fife, we feel them acutely not only because we will all know someone who is personally affected, but because they are an affront to the values of this institution. I understand the anger that comes from the injustice that we have seen reported this week, and I feel it myself.

We are also a uniquely privileged community, and that privilege cuts two ways. We must accept, as a 600-year-old institution, that while we might pride ourselves on our commitment to diversity and our intolerance of all racism, we have long been a part of the establishment and structures which perpetuate discrimination in this and other countries.

Accepting our part in this, and shining a light on the ways in which we unwittingly prolong this legacy, is a fundamental step for any institution serious about diversity and inclusion.

We can choose to prepare for that step by challenging everything we think we know about race, injustice, discrimination and the causes of division.

As I write, some of our academic and professional services colleagues with particular expertise in this area are working to prepare a reading list for publication in In the Loop this week. The texts which they recommend will be challenging and perhaps difficult for many of us. They may make us feel angry and uncomfortable, but worthwhile change rarely happens in comfort.

There is a second aspect to our privilege. You are all part of one of the world’s great universities, and are amongst the best and brightest minds of our times. You have resources and choices, intellect and opportunity, and the levers of change are closer to your hands than they are for millions of others. For the most part, you can breathe.

Tweets and statements in themselves will not change the world, but fact and argument can.

Let us condemn racism with our research, our ideas, our actions and sacrifices, and our willingness to be challenged and changed.

Covid has taught us that the world need experts after all. This is the moment for universities and their communities of scholars to step to the front of the line and accept responsibility for providing the evidence and answers to help to heal a troubled world.

Sally Mapstone
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Diversity is one of the pillars of the University Strategy 2018-2023.

Category Message from the Principal

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