Dear Members of the Campus Community,
I've expressed, in other campus outreaches, my great pleasure in being able to participate in the resumption of our on-campus life. Following months of social isolation, the repopulation of our buildings and grounds by students, faculty and staff is an undiluted joy, and I hope you share with me that pleasure.
But our reunion is not without difficulties. We now meet one another in a moment of substantially rising social anxiety, without the assistance of practiced and smooth social interaction. Some of the anxiety lies rooted in the lingering threats we face to public health. Some come from concerns about what seems an unstable economic situation. Some rise from the extraordinary and sometimes violent political polarization that marked these last few years.
We need to make the reconstruction of our community a deliberate effort. On campus, we talk of our diversity with great and justifiable pride, but sometimes act as if the mere fact of a diverse community accomplished the inclusion and justice we so desire. It does not. It merely sets the stage for the work we must undertake together.
As a diverse campus, we have the opportunity and responsibility to delve more thoroughly into the work of creating a just society. That work starts with making sure every person on campus feels safe and welcome here, and so let me state the obvious: our bedrock value, the idea on which everything else we undertake depends, is the potential embodied in every individual and the essential contribution that each cultural experience contributes to human achievement and aspiration.
As a campus, we defend these values. As individuals, however, that defense should inspire in us all a relentless endeavor to appreciate the perspectives of others, especially those most different from ourselves. Only in the endeavor to find common ground across differences can we realize the promise of our diversity: to be more than merely a place of difference, but a model of understanding across differences.
We're nearing the culmination of an election season where the dog whistles of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, homophobia, the fear of new Americans and immigrants have become commonplace. Many have ceased even to camouflage their bigotry. Our campus does not stand apart from these influences. But I think we have the advantage of being a place of education, making our reflexive response to ignorance an effort to teach a better way.
We'll have ample opportunity. Last week, a social media account posted a picture of a crude swastika drawn inside one of our bathroom stalls. I know the horror that symbol evokes in Jewish people, historically and in the present moment. If you don't fully understand that, educate yourself in their history and experiences. As I write this, we are settling on a new location for our interfaith space, an area designated for the use of all faiths to meditate, to pray, and to pursue their varied spiritual paths. While college facilities do not substitute for established houses of worship, I know how important a space for spiritual practice is to many on campus, and establishing that space validates the legitimacy of those values, even among those who do not share them. Because I review cases filed with our Office of Diversity and Compliance, I know how commonly people of color, or with uncertain immigration status, members of the LGBTQ community or others feel themselves belittled, discriminated against, or in danger. The only way to fulfill the great promise of this institution is for each member of our community to set themselves against all modes of discrimination, and I urge each of you to do so.
We have an extraordinary opportunity on this campus, every day, to be better than the simmering bigotry that has crept into so many corners of American life. We have the opportunity of one another, the chance to engage across differences, sometimes across passionate disagreement. We have the chance to search out and celebrate common ground and to demonstrate in our example more than the mere existence of diversity, but its advantages.
As a campus, we condemn every form of discrimination, both because of its essential inhumanity and because it so often sets itself against the social progress we strive to create. I commit this campus as a place of safety for all—protecting against harm to their person, their work, and their humanity. But more, I urge us to build, from the remarkable timber we have inherited, a better social edifice, one based on mutual support, understanding, and a defense of what is precious in one another.