Dear Knox Community,
As this tumultuous week comes to end, I write to share my thoughts in response to numerous conversations with students, faculty and staff at Knox. Like many of you, I have struggled to comprehend the deep political, economic and cultural fractures revealed by Tuesday’s electoral results. Although ballot counting continues, the popular vote is nearly tied. Our nation appears to be torn in half. Many of us, on both sides of the divide, feel rage or fear. In this time of rancor, I turn to you, to every member of the Knox community, to consider how you can help to repair our nation.
Recommit to the core values of inclusion, respect, equity and reason on which Knox College was founded and which will serve as guiding principles for the future. Each of us can do our part in restoring social trust and rebuilding the bonds of community.
Use this moment to lean in and listen deeply to all those who fear the future, no matter how they voted. Stand in solidarity alongside those who may be harmed in the months to come. Build the community in which we want to live with open hearts and open minds. Ask yourself in all humility if you have retreated behind a wall of privilege or armed yourself with weapons of resentment and work diligently to dismantle these barriers.
Put your liberal arts education to work for the common good.
Students, seek out courses in which you can critically engage with the policy decisions ahead; faculty, consider how your courses might contribute to that learning; staff, make the most of every teachable moment. The arts and humanities offer us the perspective of the ages along with limitless opportunities to take an empathic leap into the bodies and souls of others and experience their pain. The social sciences shine a light on hidden processes of marginalization and empowerment, exploitation and enrichment. The natural and physical sciences construct empirically verifiable knowledge of the complex world we inhabit. Mathematics and statistics give us tools to test conflicting claims.
Turn from private reaction to civic engagement.
We cannot afford to withdraw in disgust from the work of politics, no matter how tainted we believe that work to be. There are complex questions of national policy that must now be addressed and international relationships to be reformulated. Much lies in the balance: immigration status, health care for millions of Americans, climate change, criminal justice reform, tax and spending policy, infrastructure repair, and national security, among other matters. Communicate your views to your representatives at local and national levels of government, not just once, but over and over again. Voter turnout on Tuesday was at a 20-year low, but a new election cycle begins now.
Personally, over the past few days, I have drawn much inspiration from the words of President Barack Obama in an important speech 8 years ago. This is what he said:
I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren. This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people.
Like many of you who have spoken with me over the past few days, I share a deep faith in our American democratic project, however unfulfilled and imperfect our present moment. I am also inspired by the Knox community’s long commitment to values of equality and inclusion. I am optimistic that together we can defend our historic values and thus contribute to our communal and national healing.
With hope for the future,