Instructional Leadership, emphasis: K-12 School Leadership (MEd)
Two rainbows arching over NAU Flagstaff campus buildings against a dark sky.

On Tyre Nichols

Dear Lumberjacks,

Over the last year, on the occasion of history months and holidays of remembrance, I have sought to amplify the great work of our university community in honoring and celebrating these important milestones—always with a profound appreciation for how this work is not only about demonstrating solidarity but also about advancing the ideals that propel us toward a more just society.

Yet, as we look forward to the celebration of Black History Month and commemorate Martin Luther King Jr., we are regretfully faced with another tragic reminder of why advancing our ideals requires the resolve to deeply reflect on the systemic and structural societal shortcomings we seek to perfect, with special attention to the injustice facing our Black communities.

And so today, I share my reflection on a life tragically cut short to elevate and reinforce the imperative of our educational efforts to contribute to a more inclusive and just society.

As I was returning to Flagstaff on Friday after several days of meetings in the Valley, I was consumed by the virtual countdown to the release of images from body-cam and surveillance videos that captured the horrific killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. 

I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that it would be every bit as bad, heinous, and unconscionable as described by the Memphis Police Department in the hours before they released the videos—a description that was ultimately insufficient in preparing us for the traumatic images of a young man being killed by others who once were sworn to serve and protect, rather than pursue and oppress.

The echoes of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, the Exonerated Five, Abner Louima, and so many others reverberated in my mind—I can fully understand if many in our Lumberjack community feel distracted, deflated, and disconcerted by the injustice that plays out before our very eyes on what seems to be a daily basis.

But, advancing a more just society is hard work. We must gather strength from this state of affairs and recognize that the work we—our university’s teachers, learners, scholars, and advocates—do is as invaluable today as it has ever been. 

Because, as I have stated so many times before, it is through education that we break down barriers, weaken oppressive structures, and build the more equitable future we want for all of our peoples.

Part of our work is to demonstrate our commitment to creating and sustaining a more just society through equitable policies and practices. Thus, we seek to generate the inclusive environment needed to leverage the diverse backgrounds and lived experiences of our faculty, students, and staff. This is true in all of our work, from our teams in Student Affairs and IMQ, who do so much to support and empower our diverse community of students, to the NAU Police Department, which is committed to partnering with and serving our community and has unequivocally condemned this horrific act.

For anyone in our NAU community who needs to process the killing of Tyre Nichols as the latest example of abject systemic injustice and abuse, please do not hesitate to lean on friends and family and know that the resources listed below are always available to our Lumberjack community:

  • IMQ staff is available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to meet with students who would like to discuss their feelings regarding the incident and any related issues. Students can drop in or call (928) 523-5656 to connect with a staff member.
  • Counseling Services is available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to meet with students for a same-day triage appointment. Students, or a staff member on behalf of a student, may call (928) 523-2131 to schedule a triage appointment.
  • On-call counseling is available any time through Jacks Care 24/7 at (866) 656-9983. 
  • Employee Assistance and Wellness offers support and services for NAU faculty and staff.
  • Join us for a community gathering and moment of silence on Wednesday, February 1, at 9:30 a.m. at IMQ in the Fieldhouse. Details can be found on the IMQ website, as well as on their social media.

As I expressed Friday night, today, we grieve. Tomorrow, we accelerate our educational efforts to elevate individual potential and ensure the long arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice for all.

To that end, I hope to see you this Saturday for our rescheduled Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations, which now more than ever take on a greater sense of meaning and urgency. Join me and members of the university community on Saturday, February 4, beginning at 10 a.m. in the DuBois Ballroom. The full program is available online.

In partnership,

José Luis Cruz Rivera