5/31/2020

Pain & Protest

As I write to you tonight, I am struck by the words of Jason Parham this weekend on WIRED’s website in an article called “Depth of Field: George Floyd and the Illusion of Progress.” He writes:

I am writing this the week that Tony McDade, a black trans man, was fatally shot by police in Tallahassee. I am writing this week after Breonna Taylor, a black EMT, was shot at least eight times by Louisville law enforcement in her apartment. I am writing this months after Ahmaud Arbery was hunted and killed by the McMichaels, a white father and son, in Georgia. (The pair now face murder and aggravated assault  charges.) Six years ago during the peak of July, Eric Garner shouted the same haunting arrangement of words that George Floyd chose, which again rattle the mind, our now unholy inauguration to summer.

Tonight’s message comes in that context and also in the painful knowledge that F&M is not immune, not separate, not exempt. We are part of the world. Our students, now and for generations, have not had the freedom from racism—on our campus and in our world—that they fully and unreservedly deserve. That makes us part of the problem. It is tempting for those who want to think forward and fix it to think of our institution as part of the solution, to lean on changes we’ve made in the months since anger and frustration were expressed on our campus in the fall. But so long as people are angry, hurting, and afraid, that progress is not nearly enough. As Parham points out, “We have not come very far. We have so far to go.”

As protests spread across the country following the killing of George Floyd — which follows upon so much that has gone before – I see more and more clearly how important it is not just to feel the outrage but to express it, to name it, to act on it, to say out loud that Black Lives Matter, and especially so because I am a person of privilege. I am sickened by the murder of Mr. Floyd, haunted by his dying words, and outraged by the never-ending stream of injustice and tragedy in this country.

As a white woman, I do not suffer the same inequities. My heart has not been burdened by the same worries for my sons as those suffered by the parents of children of color. I have not been treated unfairly by law enforcement or been given cause, just for walking out my front door in the morning, to fear for my very life. I do not know the depth of that pain, but my indignation grows by the day. There’s a good quotation often attributed to one of F&M’s founders: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” What are the questions those with privilege must be asking ourselves and doing about it? How can we extend our humanity to one another? How can we mobilize even those who may still feel unaffected to take the necessary measures so that people of color – our families, our neighbors, our students – can feel safe in their homes, their communities, and their campuses?

What I lack in lived experience I can learn by actively listening, by seeing the reality of what is happening all around us. I, too, am tired of this horrendous inequity and lack of justice for our country, for the young people who come to live and learn and the employees who come to work at the college I am in charge of. For our students, faculty, and staff to be able to concentrate, do their best work, and benefit from every opportunity, they must, first and foremost, feel safe.

As a college president, I am in a position of authority. All across the country, we need leadership to stand up and step up. Franklin & Marshall must achieve higher standards for our own conduct, policies and procedures, and expectations. I am keenly aware of the impatience that members of our community have expressed about progress on our campus. I am grateful that you express it. You are not passive recipients of an F&M education; you are active participants in it, contributing to the circle of lifelong teaching and learning that must involve each of us. I will, and we will, continue to push on this. Our work on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion has continued because it is critically important. The protests on our campus last fall were and are a rallying cry to move ahead with overdue change. Those changes are never fast enough, and the work will never be fully done. Nonetheless, I will work with dedication every day to move us forward.

There are very specific things that I want and need to happen at F&M, and I will accept no less than this: our students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and neighbors in Lancaster must be able to see, by our actions and not just our words, that we are dedicated to addressing racism, injustice, and inequity. Our progress must move from good intentions to evident reality. You, our students, faculty and staff, must be able to know that I, and the College, have your back.

Expect to hear more from me and from other offices and departments in the coming days and weeks. Right now, I and others are partnering with individuals and organizations to set up a virtual space for discussion and comment. Very soon, please look for information coming about online interview sessions with the finalists for F&M’s inaugural Chief Officer for Diversity & Inclusion, who will be a member of senior staff and report to me. I hope you will participate in those sessions. Also, I and other area college and university presidents are co-authoring an op-ed that I expect to be published soon.

Please be sure to remember that many students and employees may be feeling anxious, distracted, and overwhelmed right now, and please give them grace. You can reach out with a statement of moral support and offer people a safe ear, but give them space if they don’t want to reply.

We’ve been hearing messages from our students full of pain and calls to action. In case you didn’t see it, DipCon’s message provided a list of resources and I encourage you to make use of it:

YWCA Lancaster 24-Hour Confidential Sexual Assault Line: 717-392-7273
Lancaster County Crisis Intervention: 717-394-2631
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
The Trevor Lifeline (LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention): 866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386)
5 Digital Self Care Tips
When Police Brutality Has You Questioning Humanity and Social Media Is Enough

The Lancaster NAACP issued a statement yesterday in which President Blanding Watson announced that they will be hosting their next Virtual Town Hall on Police and Criminal Justice Engagement next Thursday at 6 p.m. It will be accessible via the NAACP – Lancaster PA Facebook page, and all members of the general public are invited.

We often say that F&M is a place where you can find your voice. Please use yours now. Perhaps most importantly, vote. Connect with friends and mentors. Write an op-ed for submission to a media outlet or letters to your area legislators and government officials. Across the nation tonight, protests continue and took place in Lancaster today. If you use your voice to participate in protest, please stay safe. We miss you here.

 

Barbara K. Altmann, Ph.D.

President

Professor of French

Franklin & Marshall College