Dear Elms College Community,
In recent days, you have had to endure the gruesome images over and over again: a white police officer, his hand in his pocket, ending the life of another human being, a black man. This took place for close to nine minutes while three other police officers looked on, in seemingly complete serenity and detachment.
You are probably angry. The images have outraged almost everyone. But especially if you are a black man, you could see yourself in George Floyd. Or if you are a black woman, you could see a brother, a cousin, an uncle, a father in George Floyd. I have had the same feelings; for the same reasons.
You are probably stunned. How could our nation, with all its intelligence and expertise, be handling this situation so poorly? It’s not enough that we are in the middle of a pandemic in which over 105,000 Americans (and counting) –disproportionately black and brown- have died, amidst ample evidence of gross incompetence and the inability to muster a basic level of human compassion. But now, the country’s leadership is missing opportunity after opportunity to make a credible appeal to calm and unity.
You are probably confused. The images of violence and looting are distracting from the main message of peaceful protesters: the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd is not the problem. It is the tip of an iceberg of centuries of systemic injustice and racism in the United States. And that system must be dismantled.
I am not writing to tell you how you should feel.
I believe deeply that each one of us sees the world through the lenses of our life experiences. A commitment to building an inclusive community starts by recognizing and respecting that we experience life differently because of the circumstances that have shaped us into who we are.
Amidst the anger, confusion, and chaos out there, I am writing to reaffirm our common commitment to an inclusive and just community. Elms College has a rich history and core values of faith, excellence, and community intertwined with the pursuit of justice.
The Elms College Black Issues Summit, a mere three months that seem like years ago now, highlighted the unequal access and opportunity for African-Americans to the basic human rights of health, housing, and education in the United States. Our commitment to an inclusive community starts with recognizing together the fundamental injustices in our society. It moves from there to a collective engagement to bring about a more just world, both in our little community and beyond.
As former President Barack Obama said in a statement on Friday: “It falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station…to work together to create a ‘new normal’ in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.”
I am writing to invite each member of the Elms College community to recommit to that ideal of an inclusive community. As always, we can find inspiration in the selfless commitment to social justice of the college’s founders. In a statement yesterday, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield echoed the message of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul Minnesota, who expressed “their outrage at Mr. Floyd’s death, their empathy with those affected, and solidarity with the black community.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph’s message is a good call to hope and to action: “We need to imagine a society where the dignity and eternal value of each person is secure and let that be the measure of how we make decisions and choose our leaders.”
In the midst of the rightful anger, shock, and confusion, let us recommit Elms College to the hard work of a just and inclusive community.
In the next days and weeks, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will engage all members of the Elms College community in actions that we can take to bring that aspiration closer to reality.