To the O’Neill community:
By now you’ve seen messages of solidarity from President McRobbie, Provost Robel, and Chancellor Paydar as our nation grapples with two faceless enemies that have wrought havoc across the nation. One is a virus that has fundamentally changed the way we live and work. The other is a system of injustice and racism that has plagued this nation—and others—for far too long.
One day there will be a cure for COVID-19. But there will never be a vaccine that eradicates the centuries-long history of racism and oppression our communities of color have faced.
We must all be open and willing to grow through listening. As we worked to ensure our response to recent events was thoughtful, deliberate, and—most importantly—informed by those who have lived daily experience with the evils of racism, we have heard from our students and alumni. We are incredibly proud of them. They are putting the lessons our faculty have instilled in them into action for this very situation, all with the goal of making our world, our communities, and our school a better place.
The O’Neill School has dedicated itself—through both education and engagement—to the promotion of sound decisions, a sustainable environment, and the prevalence of just and healthy societies.
The COVID-19 crisis and recent acts of police-civilian violence have further shed light on the injustices and racial health disparities that are occurring within communities of color. From the streets of our biggest cities to the roads of our most distant communities, we are witnessing civil unrest on a national scale.
But we must not forget the impact these events have on us as individuals. Some of you have seen the devastating effects personally. Many in our community are facing food insecurity, energy instability, and the inability to pay for even basic everyday necessities. Many are battling the challenging mental and emotional aspects of trying to continue their education through nontraditional methods. Some have even lost loved ones to the coronavirus.
In such unstable times, I find myself wondering how we can provide hope to our students when they see the horrific deaths of those like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. How can we inspire the next generation of public servants to do what is right, no matter the circumstances? How can we respond—swiftly and effectively—to the constant winds of change?
I don’t have a definitive answer.
But I have an unflinching belief that schools, universities, and communities like ours are where we may begin to seek one. It is in classrooms like ours where ideas—often uncomfortable—challenge us to become better. It is in our hallways where students, staff, and faculty from all walks of life, and every corner of the globe, connect.
Education is the most powerful disinfectant against injustice. We teach students the skills of advocacy, discernment, and leadership. We are already deeply in the fight for just and healthy societies and the work and leadership from the school, our alumni, and our students will continue.
President McRobbie recently noted that as an institution of higher education, “we have a special obligation to work to ensure that our campus communities are places where differences of all kinds, whether of race, ethnicity or belief, are respected, valued and protected, and where hatred, bigotry, and intolerance will be powerfully condemned.”
The O’Neill School promotes leading for the greater good, to make a difference in this world, and we must continue to do just that. I call today on our community to stand in solidarity with those who need us most. With those who are suffering from grave injustices, with those whose voices aren’t being heard, with those who are facing violence and oppression simply for practicing their fundamental right to peaceful assembly and protest.
Today I urge you to be the change makers, to create the change that matters, to run for office, to volunteer, to create new public policies, and exercise your voting rights. In whatever ways we can help, we must. The next step for the O’Neill School will be to put together a plan of action to move forward with our commitment, including the ways we can support students as they work to become public servants working in the best interest of all.
We have a moral obligation to ensure our students leave the O’Neill School with compassion, empathy, and understanding—traits that will only enhance the already-robust skills we are teaching them. We have a societal obligation to use the expertise of our faculty to help find solutions.
But above all else, we have a duty to listen.
Siân Mooney, Ph.D.
Dean and Professor