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Messages in Response to Grand Jury Decisions
December 5, 2014
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
As members of the Smith community we are struggling, and we are hurting. The failure of grand juries in Missouri and New York to indict two police officers for their use of excessive force, resulting in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, has led to a shared fury—and a deep sorrow. The videotape of Eric Garner spoke for itself—or should have. In my conversations with you, I hear discouragement as you share how your lives have been disrupted, how you have lost faith in the quest for racial equality, and how you fear for people of color. How you fear especially for children like Tamir Rice, 12 years old, who was shot November 22 in Cleveland for holding a toy gun in a park.
We gather in vigil, we raise our voices in protest; yet we wake again to news of violence that reminds us, painfully, of the stark reality of racial injustice.
It can be easy to lose hope, but Marian Wright Edelman, who founded the Children’s Defense Fund more than 40 years ago, teaches us to remain willing to work for social justice, even amidst our discouragement. She said recently, “I care, and I am willing to serve and stand with others to build a movement.” Like Marian, I believe our only choice is to serve and to build, especially in times like this, as the civil rights of our fellow citizens continue to be in jeopardy.
As a community founded on the premise of equity, committed to the idea that education advances social justice, we are called to respond in several ways: to hold and heal those who are in pain; to teach, learn and share what we know; and to work for equity and justice, both on our campus and outside its gates.
We will do some of this work on our own and some in community. Thanks to the Concerned Students of Color Committee, we have already begun a series of programs that will continue as long as I am president. Thanks to the faculty, we have already begun a series of conversations about how to address institutional barriers to equality. Soon we will have a new Chief Diversity Officer to support this work.
Most immediately, we will:
- Focus the readings and prayers of this Sunday’s Christmas Vespers services at 4 and 7:30 p.m. in John M. Greene on renewing our commitment to social justice, and include a period of silent reflection during each service.
- Come together in vigil at 4:30 p.m. Monday, December 8, on Chapin Lawn, to remember Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others who have fallen; and to recommit ourselves to working toward justice and non-violence in their honor.
- Organize a panel discussion on police treatment of people of color, particularly Black males.
- Solicit ideas from all members of our community. I welcome your suggestions.
It is my fervent hope that the lives of Michael, Eric, Tamir and others will inspire a new civil rights movement. There are early signs that this is the case, as demonstrations across the country have illustrated. We are united in our insistence that all lives matter.
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,
I am writing as a follow-up to my email from earlier today to reflect what I have already learned from members of the community. Specifically, I regret that I was unaware the phrase/hashtag “all lives matter” has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against Black people. I appreciate the links to articles you sent me to make this point. I found your own words even more helpful. Here are excerpts from two student messages:
“Yes it is very true that all lives matter, but it's not the value of all lives that are being questioned. Social media has taken to the hashtag blacklivesmatter because it is black lives that seem to be undervalued.”
“While the idea that all lives matter is certainly true, it is especially important at this time that we, as allies in a movement for justice, remember who this movement is about. The impulse to universalize this experience of pain, so that we can all feel sympathy, is a good one. However, it also makes it easy to forget who is at the center of this struggle: black men, women, and children. It minimizes the anti-blackness of this the current situation; yes, all lives matter, but not all lives are being targeted for police brutality. The black students at this school deserve to have their specific struggles and pain recognized, not dissolved into the larger student body.”
I thank those of you who shared your wisdom and wise counsel with me today. I am committed to working as a white ally, to learning from the lived experiences of people of color, and to acknowledging mistakes, despite my best intentions.