COVID-19 has exposed societal inequities and impacted us all in some way, and recent high-profile instances of bias and racism just add to the difficulties so many of us are already facing.

From the deaths of Breonna, Ahmaud and George to our brothers and sisters of Asian descent who are being unfairly discriminated against in connection to the pandemic, racism is painfully real and something so many of us live with every day.

Leaving the house is an action that may seem ordinary for some, but for individuals who deal with regular hatred and judgment — just for looking how they look, being who they are, loving who they love, or living according to their faith — we live with anxiety and fear about walking into unwelcoming spaces.

Yet, we still leave our homes. Our lived experiences and our histories are still worth listening to. Our stories matter.

At UCF, in my corner of the world, I try to bring this awareness to those with whom I interact daily.

With more than 80,000 students and faculty and staff members, each of us has a story and a part to play in building this inclusive community. We all need to be listened to and learned from.

We also need to be comfortable with the discomfort born from honest, difficult dialogues about race and culture. And these conversations must happen regularly, not just in reaction to tragic and gut-wrenching headline-grabbing incidents of racism.

We do not want to imagine something terrible or tragic happening close to home or to a person we love, because it is painful to think about. We choose to shield ourselves from these painful thoughts, but others do not have that luxury. It is their reality.

But it is time we share those stories, and more importantly, that we truly listen to them. Ultimately, we all have a need to express our feelings about the discrimination and violence we have been inundated with recently, especially those we experience firsthand.

Sharing our stories helps us understand the humanity of those around us and, hopefully, leads us to embrace differences. Most importantly, it reminds us to treat everyone the way we would want to be treated, as stated in the UCF Creed and the values that guide us.

Breaking down barriers is not easy, but as Knights, we have the power to do it together by creating an environment that encourages a space for our stories and embraces equity, inclusion and diversity.

It is going to take all of us to do better — to be better — to change our society.I look forward to sharing more in the near future about plans for engaging our campus community in discussions about these topics and our plans for investing in UCF’s inclusion and diversity initiatives.

For now, students who are affected by recent events and would like support can reach out to CAPS or contact UCF’s Office of Social Justice and Advocacy. Employees can call 877-240-6863 or go to for support through UCF’s Employee Assistance Program.

Please stay vigilant and safe, and be mindful of the stories and realities of those around you. They matter, they are worth listening to and they contribute to the fabric of the UCF that we all love.