Friday, May 29, 2020

Not Too Distant Tomorrow

Today’s news has been especially troubling, as we see demonstrations turning to riots in the wake of yet more tragic deaths of people of color at the hands of police officers.

As a nation, we had already been driven to our last nerve by the pandemic. Divisions within our country have been growing more intense as we struggle with helplessness and uncertainty. We hear irrational debates about liberty and safety being at odds with each other. COVID-19 has amplified the disparities of privilege that surround and dispirit us: race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, economic opportunity, age, and ability. There is little justice in the margins and the margins are growing by the day.

Then, in this crucible of despair, we witness yet another round of senseless violent deaths steeped in racial and social division. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have joined the seemingly endless cortège of stolen black lives in America.

The cure for helplessness is action, but when that comes from a place of despair the irrational can feel righteous. We must not be overcome by the hate we wish to extinguish.

Susquehanna’s Chaplain, Scott Kershner, closes each service with this benediction:

Go out into the world in peace.
Have courage!
Hold fast to what is good.
Return no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the suffering.
Honor all people.

In Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Progress has been too slow, and in recent years, it has been tragically replaced with regress. How should we move the pendulum back to its forward swing? Dr. King reminded us that, “Nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.

In a recent opinion piece, columnist, David Brooks wrote:

Right now, science and the humanities should be in lock step: science producing vaccines, with the humanities stocking leaders and citizens with the capacities of resilience, care and collaboration until they come. But, instead, the humanities are in crisis at the exact moment history is revealing how vital moral formation really is.

This is a stark reminder of how much we as a people can and need to be uplifted and inspired by the power of the liberal-arts and why a commitment to equity and inclusion is a critical foundation of a liberal education.

When I was researching Susquehanna as an applicant to be president, one of the elements that attracted me to the University was the Statement on Diversity and Inclusiveness, which was adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2007.

It includes this recognition:

As we seek to fulfill these commitments our perceptions, understandings, and expectations will often come into conflict with those of other members of the campus community. These conflicts are not to be avoided, but should be seen as opportunities for learning and growth. Our responses to such conflicts must be framed by our respect for all people and our commitment to social justice and lifelong learning.

Our new Strategic Plan includes many components aimed at strengthening inclusion on our campus and in the community. One element of that work is to review and update the statement. I have struggled to find ways to improve the document until this week.

It is time to take the next step by acknowledging that our goal is not just to help students to learn and grow, but to prepare them to take courageous, peaceful action. We must commit to steeling them to become engaged agents for the “Change they wish to see in the world.”[1]

Brooks noted that “America is a diverse country joined more by a common future than by common pasts.” That future will be inescapably shaped by those pasts. It is up to us to prepare and to be leaders capable and committed to making that future the one King outlines at the end of his Birmingham epistle:

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

[1] Mahatma Gandhi


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