A Statement from the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota on the Involvement of Our Former Students in the Killing of George Floyd
We learned on June 4, 2020, that Thomas Lane and J Alexander Kueng, two now-former Minneapolis Police Department officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd, were former undergradaute students in the Sociology Department at the University of Minnesota. They graduated in 2016 and 2018, respectively, before continuing on to officer training programs.
We regret that an earlier email sent to faculty, graduate students, and staff about these former MPD officers’ connection to the department was not clear in its message and caused additional harm.
That email included this guidance: “We ask that faculty and grad students direct any media inquiries regarding current or past students” to a CLA communications staff member, adding, “As always, please be extremely careful about sharing any private student data.” This guidance was related to concerns about state and federal privacy laws (such as FERPA) that restrict sharing private student information, as well as concerns about the potential effect of any statements on the legal proceedings. Regrettably, neither of these concerns was explained in any detail. We apologize for poorly communicating in this instance and for the deep pain it has caused, especially to our Black students. To be clear moving forward, there is no restriction whatsoever for anyone in the department to share their perspective or expertise or to advocate for the things they believe in.
We stand behind the graduate students in our department, who stated: “We believe our department -- and other sociology or criminology programs like it -- can do much more to commit to research and teaching that divests and dismantles ... anti-Blackness and systemic racism.” We agree and will be reviewing our undergraduate curriculum to ensure that it directly challenges systemic racism, anti-Blackness, and state violence across our Sociology and Sociology of Law, Criminology, and Deviance majors. We are committed to having graduate students as an integral part of that review and our plans moving forward. We will also consult with the Sociology Graduate Student Organization and the undergraduate University of Minnesota Sociological Association on strategies to support Black students and other BIPOC community members and will conduct a series of listening sessions to develop strategies to improve communication to be implemented now and further developed during fall semester. We will share a list of initial steps within two weeks, after conducting additional consultation.
In closing, we reaffirm our Department’s commitment to research, teaching, and advocacy that helps push forward justice and equity in Minneapolis and beyond. This includes supporting Black students, staff, and faculty at the University; working towards alternatives to policing; and dismantling white supremacy in U.S. society.