Dear Laurentian friends,
I tremble and I weep. I worry and I grieve. I think and I hope.
The images return to us in unshakable vividness. The violence of the night replays our worst history. The national sadness marked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis represents a sleepless pain and revived anxiety for so many in our university community. It is not fair, not just, that such awful feelings are stirred once again.
A few years ago, University Chaplain Shaun Whitehead wrote to me privately: “We must face the uncomfortable, we must name it; we must start the difficult conversations. It’s hard to talk about race, religion, and the rise of physical, mental, and emotional violence, but too much is on the line if we ignore the challenging conversations and shut folks down.”
There is tremendous urgency in Shaun’s words, and for good reason: Some people may hesitate or fear heeding her advice. And yet, there is a way to get past that fear, naming it, redefining it, particularly if you remember that “fear” is from an older word with broader context. It used to mean more than being afraid or inhibited; it also implied respect and admiration, even awakening and awe, in coming together on the shared grounds of deep principle. In other words, we can overcome fear by a different kind of fear, the kind that looks the difficult conversation right in the eye.
One of the most important values at St. Lawrence from its founding days is that diversity, difference, pluralism, inclusivity, and another’s identity are the most difficult things to live with, but they are also the most perilous things to live without. In the darkest days of disease and death all around world, touching even a still and gentle campus in the summertime, it helps us to remember that Laurentians belong to each other, experience a bond transcending differentness, speak up for each other, and stand in an unbroken line of kindness together.
Our society too often shrugs, “not again?” when it is already long past the time of deciding for a commitment to “never again.” We have to do better,