May 31, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni,

This morning‘s celebration of our graduates offered a reprieve from the horror, deep sadness, and rage I feel about the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the much longer list of unarmed black men, women, trans and nonbinary people whose lives have been taken by police officers or apparent vigilantes. The virulent anti-black racism in this country has never NOT been obvious, and yet there are those who continue to deny it. And there are clearly those who propagate it. Over the past several years, overt avowals and defenses of white supremacy have been more frequent, having been given license by statements and tweets at the highest levels of government. When I say that the pandemic has made racism even more glaringly obvious, as I did at this morning’s event, I am making a plea, to white people, in particular, to acknowledge the reality of anti-black racism, its long history, and its current force; to recognize how embedded it is in our institutional structures, social systems, and cultural norms; and to assume our responsibility for ending it.

On behalf of the College, I condemn racial hatred, violence, and injustice. I know that many of you are peacefully protesting these most recent killings and the history of which they are a part. Many of you will be creating educational opportunities and offering support to our black students, staff, faculty, alumni and families. They live with the fear, rage, and sorrow that these killings are bound to bring up. Those of us who are white need to risk more and resist the assumption that this is someone else‘s responsibility. Whose, if not ours? The fact of anti-black racism in America is clear. No amount of outright lying or chaos-producing disinformation can change the truth of it. None of the obvious efforts to erode the very possibility of truth and destroy a shared knowledge of reality will deter us from speaking truth. 

We know from our black students and many of their allies that we have not done enough at the College to ensure their freedom from racist bias, even racist acts, much less to ensure their sense of belonging and equal ownership of the culture and life of the College. We have a great deal of work to do here at home. It begins, as it must, with truthfulness when faced with the evidence of our shortcomings. We also have to act—and act together as a community. There is so much at stake in this moment—our humanity, our democracy, and our planet. What a truly great country this could be if the privileges enjoyed by those who happen to be white were instead opportunities available to everyone. But we have not advanced to the point when black Americans can take their safety for granted, or assume they will enjoy equal opportunity, or get justice. So we have a very long way to go. 

I look forward to working with all of you.