I write this in response to questions directed to me by the [Long Beach State] School of Art Concerned Students of Color and Allies. University Art Museum staff are precluded from comment due to the ongoing appeal process. I want to be clear, I speak only in my capacity as President of California State University Employees Union Chapter 315. I do not in any way represent the university herein.
CSUEU is not privy to the specific factors the university used in reaching its decision to separate Kimberli Meyer; however, as has previously been stated, CSUEU is directly aware of serious concerns regarding her management of the UAM, which far predate “American MONUMENT.” While CSUEU believes the termination was necessary, we do not believe the university met its responsibilities to the UAM staff and campus community by choosing such a time to execute its decision.
We fully acknowledge the loss you [the students] feel at Kimberli’s removal and the pause of “American MONUMENT.” The timing of this dismissal, decided by senior university administrators, increased the severity of the harm and undoubtedly impeded programs designed to push social progress across campus. We recognize the pause as part of the collateral damage of this personnel choice. We acknowledge that state violence affects your daily lives and causes real trauma; to see content that reflects your experiences being cast aside must be especially painful.
We had hoped that “American MONUMENT” would expose your reality to communities who do not experience the same levels of injustice, with the goal of initiating the kind of genuine understanding that leads to tangible progress. CSUEU deeply respects the importance of the fight against racial bias and we remain hopeful that “American MONUMENT” will be a catalyst for positive societal change.
In response to your suggestions, CSUEU agrees that the university should invest in long-term solutions that work to eliminate unconscious bias, in order to support all entities and colleges under its umbrella. Everyone can benefit from implicit bias training.
CSUEU believes it’s imperative that facilitation of constructive conversations about social justice be led by experienced restorative justice facilitators, and we hope to see comprehensive programs that can actively heal damage to our campus soon. With the future in mind, we encourage you to utilize LBSU’s upcoming strategic planning initiative, Imagine Beach 2030, to assist our campus leadership in understanding your vision for the future of restorative justice and other important issues at our university.
This initiative involves a two-day online event on Nov. 14 and 15. Students, employees, and the public will be able to participate from any internet connected device. The platform relies on hashtags to categorize priorities and content. We recommend coordinating your hashtags with your network in advance to maximize the amplification of your collective voice on the issues most important to you.
In response to the direct question, “Do you think communities of color feel safe around police or law enforcement agencies?” No, we do not. The request for early dialogue around safety reflects our efforts to build reasonable preparedness measures in a higher educational environment.
These measures were intended to protect staff, students and the public while encouraging all involved to handle any potential safety issues with sensitivity to communities of color who feel unsafe around police. Discourse around safety planning is a necessary element of responsible public service. Without it, organizations cannot respond appropriately to valid needs of people of color, veterans and differently abled individuals.
Identifying how the campus planned to protect without interfering with the project or causing harm to participants was essential. Across LBSU, under all circumstances, managers are requested to anticipate potential disruptions or conflicts surrounding its projects and respond with appropriate safety plans.
The request made by CSUEU was not unusual nor has it been accurately represented by all parties (I.E. there was never a request or suggestion made by CSUEU that police be consulted on project content or that they station officers at the UAM for the duration of “American MONUMENT”).
Questions raised about whether staff members’ racial identifications qualify them to handle social justice issues are inappropriate and would be illegal in an employment interview context. For these reasons, we will not address these inquiries with a specific response other than to say we hope an ongoing university commitment to eliminating systemic implicit bias will improve representation across all segments of our campus employment structure.
CSUEU would like to point out that UAM staff have done an exceptional job in a complicated situation, the circumstances of which have been beyond its control. Both in preparation for this project and after the announcement of its pause, staff have shown a commitment to public service and continually work to do right by the artist, Lauren Woods, with respect to her wishes for “American MONUMENT” and her co-collaborative process.
In response to comments on engagement related to this project on the part of staff, the Curator of Public Engagement and Participatory Practices is responsible for community outreach surrounding “American MONUMENT.” As such, it is only within her job duties to communicate with you regarding this project. UAM staff work as a team to support each other, organizational initiatives and programs within the boundaries of their respective roles, which consist of duties and responsibilities specific to each of their positions.
Institutional and social change does not depend on one person. It is only from collective effort that collective action can be achieved. The UAM remains dedicated to inclusion and upholding social justice. Events like this summer’s Zines Are Us and future projects like “Call and Response, When We Say… You Say,” show a dedication to equitable representation for artists of color and an interest in, and sensitivity to, the needs of diverse communities.
California State University Employees Union
President, Chapter 315
Read the letter to the editor from the Concerned Students of Color and Allies here.