We stand with you in calling-out the horrific events of Charlottesville, the ugliness of persisting racism in our society, the reality of hate and hate-mongering, the muted responses to date from authorities, the agony of victimization, the demonic behavior of cults of hate and white supremacy, the reality of the death of Heather Heyer as she tried peaceably to name oppression, the brutal assault on Deandre Harris, and the injury to many more protesting white nationalism.
They are each nightmarish failures—their sources deeply rooted in our society and political culture, in our history and economy. But as we collectively explore their sources and why they are failures, we acknowledge that, if silent, or if we explain away bigotry and hateful behavior with false equivalences, we are complicit. Hopefully, we will continue to see political leaders, business and professional CEO’s, clergy, activists and marchers, petitioners, media spokespersons, and endless ordinary citizens committed to justice—stand up by speaking out.
Their words and deeds remind us in education that our commitments to advancing learning and discovery, to diversity and the wholeness of persons and their communities, mean that we must exercise our special civic and educational responsibilities. We in education are called upon to identify failures and their sources, as well as articulate progress. Learning reveals the obligation to name racism and bigotry, evil and ignorance.
We take responsibility for history by understanding it and laboring to resist ignorance—knowing that while manifest in our past, the evils of hate, suppression and ignorance can be resurgent if not called out and rejected. The entitlement to freely voice a claim or opinion, hateful or loving, is distributed in an open democracy, a guaranteed right. But the connection of what is voiced (the claim, belief, or opinion) to justice, to evidence, or to principle is not secured by pronouncing it. And it is the consideration of those connections that education, and those acting in its name, are uniquely charged to uphold.
Calling out racism, violence against persons, bigotry, and hateful and ignorant discourse is to act on that responsibility. To call-out, to name, is to act. Doing so reinforces the power of the cohesive values of the civic community and the healing of difference. To call-out is to stand up. Not to claim the responsibility, to fear reprisal by others, to hedge bets so as not to disturb the status quo, or to reinforce a judgment that education must remain “neutral” (as though there is middle ground between justice and injustice) is to erode the significance of the responsibility—reducing the purposes of education to rhetoric—a soporific for accepting passivity and ignorance.
Within a few weeks, many campuses will convene a new semester; we hope you will focus on building supportive spaces for dialogue, for learning and challenging, questioning and fostering inclusivity—crafting a campus climate for meeting civic and educational responsibilities. We hope you will be cognizant of students' need to explore their developing emotions surrounding these divisive issues, and of their intersecting identities and life experiences, with which they come to campus and impact their view of the world and your campus community on a smaller scale.
All of us who participate in education, who enjoy its privileges, and who are committed to its power, recognize that this is one of those moments to stand by calling-out. We know that you are doing so. We invite you to share your thoughts and plans; we want to stand with you.
With respect and gratitude,
Don Harward and the BTtoP Team
Director, Bringing Theory to Practice
Executive Director, S. Engelhard Center
President Emeritus, Bates College