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At Once, Despair and Hope

Dear Members of the Clark Community,

This week began for me — and I imagine others within our community — with a kind of emotional whiplash, something with which I have been grappling for several days now. The horrific murders of ten people in Buffalo, New York this past Saturday—purely motivated by racism—instantaneously produced for me feelings of outrage, disgust, and despair. On an otherwise normal Saturday afternoon, an 18-year-old donned in military-style clothing and body armor went on a bloody rampage targeting a supermarket in the heart of a predominantly Black community, killing innocent people simply because of the color of their skin. So much hate, violence, animus, and prejudice. Buffalo, in fact, is but only the most recent incident of racially-motivated attacks, gun violence, and expressed hatred in our country and in other parts of the world. Just days earlier we had the shootings in Laguna Woods, California, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

I only can imagine how deeply people of color in our community are hurting right now, and my heart goes out to them and to all the victims of fear, intimidation, violence, bias, and racism. I hope members of the Clark community will take respite in the supportive and loving care of family, friends, and each other.

There is just no ambiguity about the shocking and unacceptable nature of the persistence of so much hate and bias. How, then, could I possibly feel anything of the opposite of despair in this moment? How could I be hopeful?

This week is also among the most joyous in the life of our university community, especially for those now just days away from earning their degrees. But, also, for those of us who work every day in classrooms, libraries, laboratories, university offices, and dining halls to fulfill our mission of preparing students to make their way in the world successfully and to change that world for the better along the way. This is supposed to be — and, I believe, actually is — among the reasons why higher education is essential and matters. Hatred is very often rooted in fear and ignorance. Higher education promotes not just an acceptance of difference, but a deep appreciation for it. As an institution, we have a significant responsibility to expose today’s inequities and the pernicious history of racism in our country. But that is not enough. We also have a responsibility to seek solutions and to hold ourselves as a community accountable for change.

As I reflect on our students and learn more about all their many accomplishments while at Clark, I can’t help but be hopeful about our future even as I despair that we are so evidently broken as a country around issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, gender discrimination, xenophobia, religious beliefs, and, I would say, access to and understanding of the essential value of education.  We have a responsibility to act and to fight for the values in which we believe and for which we stand; we must condemn racism and bigotry, expose and reject the lies that feed hatred, and promote education.

Clark’s students, those soon-to-be alumni, and those who will be with us in the years ahead are extraordinary for their passion, skills, determination, and courage. Each in their own way embraces a commitment to Challenge Convention/Change our World. Already they are challenging not just convention, but injustice, inequality, racism, lies, and hatred. They give me hope.

David Fithian ’87