Dear Earlham community,
The last few months have been so hard on all of us – having to leave campus suddenly, having to teach and learn online with little preparation, trying to plan for a future that remains unclear, and more recently, budget cuts and painful position eliminations. But our challenges as a community pale in comparison to what was demonstrated last week in the murder of George Floyd by someone sworn to protect him. And this is not an aberration. It is clear that toxic and violent racism is an inherent part of our society and our institutions for over 400 years. Our black students, faculty and staff face this every day as they try to survive and thrive in a country that judges them, abuses them, and kills them solely because of the color of their skin.
I am sorry that it has been a couple of days since my first email and initial Twitter postings about this. As I was trying to process the situation (along with everything else happening on campus), I read several presidents’ statements on the week’s events. They were all thoughtful and reasoned and hopeful. But I felt – and feel – angry and hopeless and helpless. And guilty. Guilty for the benefits I have received from structural racism in our society, and also guilty for the many ways I have inadvertently treated people of color in racist ways. The videos of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery’s murders were terrible and inexcusable, as was the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in her home, but so too was the video of a middle-aged white woman like me, Amy Cooper, making abundantly clear that she was willing and able to put an innocent black man’s life at risk just because he was interfering with her walk in the park.
What do those events, in big cities far from Richmond, Indiana, have to do with Earlham College? Unfortunately, here at Earlham our black students feel judged and disrespected and not valued, again simply because of the color of their skin (as many of them so eloquently shared in their message to our community today), rather than feeling how much we care for and support them. That cannot continue. Our Principles and Practices, the values we live by every day, do not allow it. We need to be better than that.
The foundation of those values, of our Principles and Practices, is the belief in the inherent worth of every person, the belief that there is “that of God” in each one of us. This belief calls us to our commitment to Respect for all Persons. If each person has the divine within them, how can you lie to them (Integrity), or behave violently toward them (Peace and Justice), or not treat them like the brother or sister they are (Community), or keep for yourself their share of the earth’s resources (Simplicity and Sustainability)? Earlham’s founders left North Carolina in the early 19th century to start new lives in Indiana because they would not be a part of a society that felt it could enslave people just because they were black. Are we living their values today? Are we sharing these values with the wider world?
I am meeting over the next two weeks with members of our Diversity Progress Advisory Committee and the Board of Trustees Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and I hope our Black Student Union. They will help me plan how we can make this the year Earlham truly lives its belief that each one of us is uniquely precious and must be given every opportunity to be the fullest version of ourself.
I welcome your partnership.
Holding all of you in the light in this terrible time for our country,