Rau and Altmann

Damaris Rau, left, and Barbara Altmann. 

Leaders of the two largest educational institutions in Lancaster city have spoken out about the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last week in police custody in Minneapolis.

Floyd’s death has sparked international social unrest, including in Lancaster city, where since Saturday daily protests against racial inequality and police brutality have persisted well into the night.

“Like so many of you, I am outraged at the sight, on national television, of the senseless killing of George Floyd,” School District of Lancaster Superintendent Damaris Rau said in a blog post Monday. “Losing his breath under the knee of a police officer, his death is searingly symbolic of how members of our black community are held down by the very institutions meant to raise us up.”

Those institutions include schools, where black students historically find themselves disciplined more often than their white peers. Rau said her 11,000-student district is working on that and more.

The Lancaster school district has embarked on an ambitious equity plan to reduce black male student suspensions, provide training to teachers as well as recruit and retain teachers of color.

“Closing learning gaps, eliminating disproportionate suspensions and raising our cultural competence can be the foundations of a stronger, more equitable community,” Rau said. “We embrace the central role our schools play in lifting the historical and institutional weights from students of color.”

At Franklin & Marshall College, where a series of race-related incidents sparked emotional protests on campus last fall, President Barbara Altmann said she, too, is angry.

After Floyd’s death, “I see more and more clearly how important it is not just to feel the outrage but to express it, to name it, to act on it, to say out loud that Black Lives Matter, and especially so, because I am a person of privilege,” Altmann, a white woman, said in a letter to the campus community.

She continued: “I am sickened by the murder of Mr. Floyd, haunted by his dying words, and outraged by the never-ending stream of injustice and tragedy in this country.”

Altmann also expressed understanding for those at F&M who feel the college hasn’t made enough progress to quash racist acts and attitudes on campus.

She said the college is dedicated to addressing racism, injustice and inequity, and she wants to show the community proof of that.

“You, our students, faculty and staff, must be able to know that I, and the College, have your back,” she said.