Editor’s note: The author is dean of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s School of Education, Social Sciences and the Arts who shared these thoughts with faculty colleagues in the wake of the May 14, 2022 mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y.

Dr. Marshall F. Stevenson Jr.

This is a week of joy and pain.  Joy for the approximately 277 students who will be presented with their degrees this Friday (May 20).  This is a signature accomplishment, but more so in the age of COVID.  This is the third graduating class impacted by the COVID pandemic, whether fully online instruction (spring, 2020), partial online instruction, (‘20-‘21) or full on-campus instruction this year. From a virtual graduation to a face-to-face procession with masks, if nothing else, we have learned to adjust and hold true to our mission.

At the same time, I am pained for the families of those murdered in Buffalo this past Saturday.  What kind of world are our graduates entering?   Cold, callous, violent and racist.  Unfortunately, the latter two are the underside of America’s history.  

It is my hope our graduates will be the leaders in finding the solutions to the social, political and economic distress affecting our nation.  These kinds of events resonate more in our school’s disciplines than any of the others at UMES — criminal justice, sociology, history, political science, leadership and clinical mental health — are all a part of the courses and majors we offer to our students.

As I headed to campus Monday morning listening to the news, it struck me “This is the REAL critical race theory that those who are so up in arms about should be concerned with”. Replacement theory — like critical race theory — is not new.  In fact, it is much older than critical race theory. 

I do not want to confuse the two, because they are diametrically opposed to one another.  One helps us understand the source and persistence of racism and the other promotes racism.   It troubled me to read the shooter scouted out the Tops Friendly Market on Friday, engaging in a nearly 90-minute conversation with Grady Lewis, an African American who lives in the neighborhood.  It should not be surprising some of what they discussed was in fact critical race theory. 

The alleged gunman is 18 years old.  Instead of being inspired to seek a college degree and make a meaningful contribution to society, he is accused of choosing the almost unpardonable sin of taking the lives of 10 innocent people, driven by the hateful and murderous ideology of white supremacy.

As you administer your final examinations and offer your best wishes to our graduating seniors, we cannot and must not forget what took place in Buffalo, or any of the other mass shootings – 201 – that have taken place in our country since January.  Not all were racially motivated, but what transpired in Buffalo should always remind our graduates that despite the grand and glorious history and accomplishments of our HBCUs, they were born out of the same white supremacy that fueled the gunman in Buffalo. 

We owe it to our students to instill in them a sense of social activism that challenges the ongoing vestiges of racism that afflicts our nation. 

Just a few of the stirrings from my soul on this day.

Dr. Marshall F. Stevenson Jr. is a history professor who earlier this year assisted Delaware in identifying ways it’s public schools could incorporate a broader narrative of Black history in the curriculum. He is UMES’ representative on the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission studying how the state should address those unprosecuted crimes.

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