Thoughts on Charlottesville
"Students, you in particular model for us what it means for strangers of all backgrounds and persuasions to build and sustain a community of trust. Let us not minimize the challenge of that undertaking."
The violent demonstrations and fatal vehicular attack we witnessed in Charlottesville last weekend were the horrific consequences of institutionalized hatred as practiced by KKK, Nazi, and “alt-right” groups. I know I speak for all members of the Haverford College community in rejecting that hatred, and in affirming kinship with everyone at UVA and Charlottesville who has been deeply wounded, physically and emotionally, by the terrible display of brutal bigotry. We send our heartfelt sympathies to all those who were injured, many of them grievously; to the family of Heather Heyer; and to the families of Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates of the Virginia State Police.
The bigots who marched in Charlottesville trumpeting white-supremacist ideology, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia were engaged in a longstanding effort to poison our society. Notably, they often seek to bring their animus onto the grounds of educational communities, where liberality of thought and strength of conscience prevail. As co-habitants of a broad educational and civic landscape dedicated to seeking truth and justice, we at Haverford feel the recent hateful assaults as though they had been directed against our own community.
As in the summer of 2016, when we witnessed abhorrent attacks against LBGTQ, Latinx, African-American, and other vulnerable communities, we forcefully reiterate our stand against any form of violence or intolerance. It is especially important for new members of the College to know that Haverford is devoted to the values of inclusivity, mutual trust, and care that embrace people of all races, nationalities, ethnicities, creeds, and sexual orientations. As a learning community devoted to freedom of thought and the quest for truth unconstrained by censorship or intimidation, we are highly tolerant of expression even of ideas that some might find odious. However, while we strive to cultivate vigorous, respectful exchange, we do not deem harassment, threats, or bigoted chants, let alone violence, to be protected forms of expression here.
I assure all members of our community that you are greatly valued at Haverford College. That assurance can derive its full meaning, and maintain its full stamina, only from our individual commitment to value one another. Students, you in particular model for us what it means for strangers of all backgrounds and persuasions to build and sustain a community of trust. Let us not minimize the challenge of that undertaking. You are not coming here with vacant minds; in your lives before Haverford, you have formed insights, hunches, opinions, uncertainties, and loyalties. Now you find yourselves amid a host of new viewpoints, many of them congruent with yours, but others not. So I call on each of you to start every exchange with an authentic curiosity to learn how another person sees the world, and with an understanding that differences of origin do not preclude compatible goals. In defiance of bigotry, let us recognize that our society’s healing depends not on chauvinism but on the assumption of our shared human worth and on our dedication to mutual concern.
Enacting this fierce commitment can be a formidable task—but our best hopes for ourselves and our world may well depend upon the capacity for just such discernment and dialogue. I know that we, and a great many likeminded communities, can meet this challenge with grace and determination.