Injustice and inequality: A call for change
Dear Members of the Skidmore Community,
As the COVID-19 pandemic that we all have been living through these past months has disrupted virtually every aspect of our lives, it also has both exacerbated and underscored the deep-seated and longstanding racial disparities that persist within our nation. In more recent days, the very public killing of George Floyd at the hands of a policeman in Minneapolis – added to the earlier deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other senseless deaths stretching back through centuries of U.S. history – have brought new national attention to the deeper, more longstanding and more insidious pandemic of racism.
These events have sparked protests – mostly peaceful, some violent – as people across our nation have risen together to say "enough!" We know that the time for all of us to have said "enough!" and to have acted to bring about more fundamental change than we have seen to-date is long past. But we are still compelled to make our voices again heard today. To be silent in the face of this challenge is not an option.
But raising our voices is not sufficient. We must embrace the work that remains to be done, in our larger society, in our College and in each of our lives. This work begins on an individual level by acknowledging the deeply personal pain that black people in our nation live with daily. It is the pain of seeing members of their families sickened by COVID-19 and wondering who is next. It is the pain of a black father forced to say to his young son that no, it may not be safe for him to engage in the normal, quotidian activities, such as going out for a run, that many white people have the luxury of taking for granted. It is the pain of identifying, personally, with every case of an innocent person of color being threatened, harmed or killed in actions clearly shaped by racial animus. These realizations were part of the impetus behind the Black Lives Matter movement, and it is time for all of us to affirm that, yes, Black Lives Matter.
One of the most important goals of liberal education is to cultivate the creative imagination that allows one person to experience at least some dimension of the quite different experience of someone else. And surely the best way to develop such capacities in oneself is by forging authentic relationships of colleagueship and friendship with persons whom society has taught us to regard as "other," relative to ourselves. Creating opportunities for such personal relationships to develop and flourish is one of the reasons we have worked to diversify the Skidmore community and why this work must continue.
But even as well-meaning individuals who are not black try to develop this level of empathy, they still cannot know at a deep existential level exactly what it means to be black as an ongoing condition of their lives. So, let us all simply acknowledge that the acts of violence against people of color, so frequently recorded and played out time and again in our media, are personal for some members of our community in ways that they cannot be for others.
It is understandable why many people feel helpless in the face of society-wide patterns of injustice that have persisted year over year and that never seem to change. But social structures are just that – social. They are constituted and maintained, and can be altered, by individual actions. Just as we each are fundamentally responsible for what we believe, we share collective responsibility for how our society functions. Voting, for example, is an individual act that can seem inconsequential but that collectively can lead to significant change. Raising one's voice in protest is an individual act. But collective protest can be powerful and can have consequences. We hope that the current peaceful protests will help us move closer to realizing the ideals that we claim to be foundational to our nation.
The Skidmore community is also a social structure, and it is small enough to encourage us about the possibility of effecting change through our own actions. Where our institutional structures promulgate racist or other negative stereotypes or create barriers to individual achievement, we must analyze, critique, modify or replace them. This realization brought urgency to our creation of a Black Studies Minor and a Social Justice Space in Case Center. Likewise, our College culture is animated through our individual actions. It is either reinforced or altered by what each of us does every day – how we interact with one another, what we choose to make important, where we direct our efforts. As individuals, we must continue to do our part to reduce the number of acts of bias and discrimination in the Skidmore community. And we have an obligation to learn more about how our structures and systems affect the lives of all our community members, so we can know where those structures and systems need to change.
In recent weeks, we have seen some signs of hope amidst the outrage playing out on our streets. The police chief of Houston, Texas, to cite just one example, has displayed leadership in opposing police violence and standing with protesters in a very public way. Across our country, many members of the law enforcement community are themselves outraged by continuing evidence of hateful and unlawful behavior by other law enforcement officers. But much more needs to happen in our national, state, and local governments to ensure that the systemic violence against our fellow citizens of color perpetrated in the name of law and order stops today. This responsibility falls upon us all, in our choices and our votes.
Closer to home, in our College, all of us must continue our own work of listening to one another. As all conversations at the College should be, this dialogue must be critical, especially when it turns to considering actions to be taken. It also must include the understanding that it is not the work of people of color to perform their identities or to express their pain for the benefit of educating others. If they choose to do so, they are giving a personal gift, one that frequently comes with its own significant emotional cost.
Accordingly, we must acknowledge that the task of actively seeking understanding – of expanding our own creative imaginations and then leaning into the work of change – is fundamentally work we must take on for ourselves. Let this moment be an occasion for each of us to reflect on our own actions and, more importantly, commit anew to doing our part to ensure that our College community is uplifted by our personal acts of kindness, generosity, and respect for one another. Future generations of Skidmore community members, appropriately, will judge us by what we do now.
For many of us, to see injustice and inequality in the world is to want to change it. We talk with our students about leaving the world a better place than they found it. We should take heart that, at the core of our educational mission as a liberal arts college, we are providing our students the skills, abilities, and knowledge necessary for them to be genuine agents of change. It is one reason why what we do at Skidmore is so important. So, let us continue to keep our eyes on our highest aspirations for our students and lean into the task of helping the College achieve its fundamental educational ideals.
Philip A. Glotzbach, President
Marc C. Conner, President-Elect
The President's Cabinet: Cerri A. Banks, Mary Lou Bates, Sean P. Campbell, Martin A. Mbugua, Donna Ng, Michael T. Orr, Joshua C. Woodfork