Rector Robert R. Hatten, Esq.

Statement on Black Lives Matter and Social Justice

CNU Board of Visitors, June 4, 2020

Good afternoon.  I am Bobby Hatten. 

I am a trial lawyer and I have the great honor  to serve as the Rector of the Board of Visitors of Christopher Newport University, and I welcome all of you to this public meeting of that board.

Before starting the business meeting I would like  to take a moment of personal privilege to speak to everyone in the Commonwealth of Virginia  who is listening:

We have a crisis of structural and intractable racism in America.   

It is obvious and blatant to everyone who has eyes to see and a heart to understand.  

So obvious that the entire country has just seen a policeman murder a Black man in broad daylight, slowly killing him with his knee on his neck, while three other policemen stood by and did nothing to stop it. 

That crime, as well as other atrocities by police, has ignited the justifiable rage and anger of millions of Americans—Black, Brown and White—who are still marching through our cities and towns.

Chanting, crying, shouting, and pleading “BLACK LIVES MATTER”—and indeed they do.

One thing is certain: White people, like me, DO NOT KNOW what it is like to be Black in America,

But IF this week has taught us anything, it has taught us that it is time—long past time—that White men and women in America need to start listening to Black people and standing  up with them.

Listen when they say:

America  has a crisis of impunity, immunity, and accountability  for police brutality toward Black people.

Listen when they say:

America  has a crisis of inequality in income, health care, opportunity, and education for Black people.

Listen when they say:

America  has a crisis of justice in our courts and of leadership in our government.

All over America, these cries of Black people for justice and fairness have not been answered. 

BUT today the whole world is listening.

We—White people—should have been listening sooner – but this is not new.    

Systemic racism against Black people has been ingrained in American culture for hundreds of years.

From slavery, to Jim Crow laws, to the Ku Klux Klan, to segregated schools, restaurants, and hotels, to the red lining of real estate, and the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this part of our American history is an ugly story.

Only three years ago, as a country we shamed a Black football player who harmlessly put his knee on the ground to protest police brutality during the singing of our national anthem.

He rightly believed that  our national pledge of allegiance is to “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

But the police killings of Black men and women  has continued.

Enough is enough.

White people can no longer look away and refuse to confront these issues.

It is long past  time for broad-reaching structural and institutional changes to our laws and our culture to root out and destroy racism against Black and Brown people in America.

As leaders of this great University, we have heard the voices of the  Black Community and we support you.

Your voices, thoughts, and feelings matter to the University– but we want you to know that we have not been waiting for this national tragedy to respond.

Under the progressive leadership of President Paul Trible,

Last year we instituted the Community Captains program to directly change the lives of economically disadvantaged children in Newport News, most of whom are Black.

This program will ultimately provide 100 students with a totally free college education at CNU.    

This progressive program is unmatched by any other college or university in the state of Virginia. 

Last week the University Council on Diversity and Inclusion, led by our colleagues Sheriff Gabe Morgan and Brad Hunter, and including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and leaders from the community—submitted Christopher Newport’s Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In thoughtful detail, this 25-page document outlines a bold plan of action for the University to overcome the remaining burdens of historical racism in higher education.

Today, twenty-one percent (21%) of CNU’s 5,000 students are non-White, and 300 are Black.  I am pleased to report that our focus on attracting more students of color has increased the number of Black students we expect to welcome to our Freshman class based on deposits received.  This year we expect to welcome 91 Black students versus 78 last year—an increase of 16%.  The Community Captains Program that I have just described will swell those numbers of Black students in future years.

Paul Trible’s mantra and CNU’s mission is to change hearts and minds so that we can provide leadership to our community, our state, and our country.

Happily, the hearts and minds of our nation are changing—yesterday thousands of Black, Brown, and White people gathered in front of the White House and their voices were lifted up in unison as they sang  - Lean on ME –  

Lean on me when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.

CNU’s message to our students and to this community is simple:

Lean on Us because Black Lives Do Matter at CNU, and we intend to play a leadership role in changing the hearts and minds of our students, our community, and our country so that we can end the crisis of racism that is so destructive to our national ideals of equality, fairness, and justice.