Dear Members of the Skidmore Community,
I wrote to you on December 22 regarding an incident that took place in downtown Saratoga Springs at the end of last semester and that resulted in serious charges brought against four of our students. I believe it is important to repeat now what I said at that time: I will continue to resist making assumptions and judgments about the events in question until all accounts are heard and all evidence is presented—and I urge all of us to do the same. As the investigations unfold, we expect the fair treatment of all associated with this incident; that expectation must include the presumption of innocence unless guilt is proven.
I am deeply troubled, however, that over the past several weeks “the presumption of innocence” is being lost in much of the broader conversation around these events. In calling for the suspension of judgment until the facts are gathered, I also challenge each of us to examine critically the generalities about Skidmore students, race, and class, published in various online discussion boards and sound-off columns. Some of this commentary is misinformed, but some is uncivil and biased in ways that none of us should tolerate. Even though we recognize that these statements come from a small number of individuals, their impact is nevertheless toxic, diminishing the humanity of us all and creating an atmosphere in which members of our campus and local community may and do question whether they are indeed welcome.
This question of inclusion is an urgent one. As students and faculty return to start a new semester, we must seize the opportunity to reassert the values of our Skidmore community. Skidmore stands by its commitment to building and supporting a diverse community as an essential element of our educational mission. That concept of diversity embraces the different identities we carry with us, including race, ethnicity, national origin and class, as well as gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, ability/disability, and religious affiliation. Goal II of the College’s Strategic Plan calls upon us to recognize the complexities of the multi-national, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world we live in and “develop the intercultural skills necessary to affirm one another's humanity, no matter how different we might at first appear, with the ultimate goal of living and working successfully together.”
But it is one thing to espouse these values and another to live them. We have heard too many voices over the years asserting strongly that we are not living up to our ideals of mutual respect and inclusion. It is now time to redouble our efforts and take up some very tough questions: Can we be a community that is truly open and welcoming to all of our members? Can we be a community where all individuals have the capacity to question honestly and forthrightly their own assumptions? Can we be a community that is truly committed to justice and fair treatment for all of its members? Can we be a community whose members are willing to ask the hard questions, willing to listen to hard answers and, if warranted, willing to change?
Various groups and individuals are currently making plans to engage these questions over the course of this semester in a number of settings (both on and off campus). You will hear more about these plans shortly, and so please watch for more detailed announcements. While we need to attend first to the health of our own Skidmore community, we must also reach out to the broader Saratoga community since these issues are not restricted to the confines of the campus but extend throughout our region and beyond.
These conversations will be difficult ones, but I believe they are the right conversations for a campus and a local community that aspires to be open and inclusive.