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Dear Alumni & Friends,
Just a few short months ago, we all awoke to a reality that was wholly unfamiliar. Wrenched apart from friends and loved ones and relegated to human contact through glass screens, we found ourselves separated by the pandemic in ways we had never experienced. We felt, and are still feeling, fear and confusion, a suspicious wariness of one another as we pass, six feet apart.
And then the brutal, heartbreaking, and senseless killing of George Floyd exposed a crack in whatever veneer of togetherness we maintained. A crack that has been with us for centuries. And periodically gets exposed for the huge fissure it really is.
With protests underway in major cities across the United States in response to the Floyd murder and other too similar tragedies, we must once again, for seemingly the thousandth time, face the fault line of racial inequality that has been there right from the start. Racism is an all too prevalent feature of our society, one that all communities that aspire to virtue must address and confront.
We again feel a strain of separation, only this time, it is not as unfamiliar as that caused by the pandemic. On this familiar ground, our fears and confusions reflect the wide gap in our lived experiences and the remarkably divergent histories that brought us to this day.
At St. John’s, we do indeed spend enormous amounts of time asking how to create a just society and how to live lives of virtue. We are guided by the Statement of the Program, which speaks directly to the college’s ideals that “liberal arts enable all human beings to know the world around them and to know themselves in this world, and to use that knowledge with wisdom. Under the guidance of these arts, they can free themselves from the constraint of prejudice and the narrowness of beaten paths.”
We can be proud that the Program asks us to grapple with our unexamined beliefs and to free ourselves from prejudice. We know that we often fail to live up to these ideals. We must acknowledge that. And we must commit ourselves to doing better.
To our black and other community members of color, many of whom have raised your voices over the last few days, we want you to know that your lives and your voices matter deeply to us. We also know that we have more work to do on the needed actions you voiced to our Campus Culture Committee.
We know many will read these words and think that they are easy things to say. Platitudes designed to calm the waters that will be forgotten as the crisis fades.
Let’s work together to ensure that this is not so. For our part, we understand that it is right and entirely appropriate to speak out against brutality, but also that such words will not on their own heal deep wounds or bring real hope of better days to our community. We pledge to be partners in working to make actual progress. To examine where we fail, and devise strategies and plans to do better.
That is hard work. But it is high time we get to it.
Please know we are thinking of all of you. May you be safe and well.
President Mark Roosevelt and President Pano Kanelos
To share your comments or questions, please email presidents(at)sjc.edu.