Dear Members of the City College Community,
I’ve had some difficulty thinking about what to write as a way of welcoming you to the new academic year. I’ve spent the last months mostly on campus, struck by the juxtaposition of our college’s stunning beauty and its current virtual emptiness. It was heartening, over the summer, to see families using our largely vacant lawns for exercise and picnics. But a college is not a museum: it thrives on the energy of its people, and so in the austerity of our newly wide-open spaces, I strained for the echo of you all, and find myself straining still as I write.
In hard times and good, we faculty, staff, and students are the latest stewards of an extraordinary legacy. Since our founding in an imperfect society, the idea of extending opportunities to the whole people has been our gift to America and to the world. We still must push against the imperfections of our world, and so our work remains as vital now as ever it was. The pandemic has thrown the disparities and injustices in our society in ever greater contrast, emphasizing the places where the disease has most hurt us, where economic activity has shown itself most vulnerable, where the distribution of political power and voice has been most unfair. In view of this landscape, the mission of City College—to change the inequitable distribution of wealth, power, and position in our society—demands ever more of us all.
And it is hard, I know, to be called so urgently to our work in the face of such hardship. We thrive on one another’s company, companionship, and energy, on the hum of our collective creativity, insight, and activity. If you teach, I know that you come to campus eager to be with your students, privileged to explore your ideas and theirs. If you are a member of our staff, I know that your efforts to provide services are both more effective and more rewarding when human interaction enlivens them. I know that if you are a student, you almost certainly imagined college as people and conversations, interaction and engagement, rather than time in front of a screen.
And yet, our collective and historic project looms so much larger than the burden of these days. When times are tough, a resolute people reach for the sustenance of their core principles, and I know us all to be resolute. I feel for your loneliness and frustration, but allow a sense of our purpose to be a comfort. The work you do each day is not an isolated snippet of effort, but integral to the great story of a people becoming more fully themselves. If you work at the college in any capacity, if you have come to the college to study and learn, if you look to CCNY and all it represents as a fundamental institution of our threatened democracy, then be assured and heartened in this: we will not be physically separated forever, and the work we do in these next months will define a generation. I hope that is a comfort to you when you need it. The very idea has sustained me all these past months.
And so welcome to the new academic year—to the invitation and opportunity of new ideas, fresh challenges, and the vision of a more fair society. Lean on one another when you need it, and be of help to your neighbors when you can. Be careful and vigilant with yourselves and with those around us, and let’s not allow the crosswinds of this season to slow us down.