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The Role of Our Community in Divisive Times

October 31, 2018

Dear Campus Community,

Over the week, our nation has endured hateful attacks targeting African Americans, Jews, and leading donors and politicians associated with the Democratic Party. In each instance, the target of the hate has been positioned as “other”— as less than human, as the embodiment of evil, as a sinister force dedicated to the destruction of our nation, and so forth. Toxic stereotypes, sinister conspiracy theories manufactured in the absence of fact and evidence, and rabid partisanship warp our perception and dim our intellect.

It is clear that “otherizing” can lead to aggression, violence and pain. Hate crimes are on the rise, both here and abroad, with the murder of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue as a recent, horrific example of anti-Semitic cruelty. Incidents of hate, some violent and resulting in deaths, have also increased for other stigmatized groups such as African Americans, Muslims, Latinos, immigrants, and gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons.

We as members of a campus community of inquiry have the opportunity—and I believe obligation—to actively resist hate by seeking out its origins, critically examining the beliefs that sustain it, speaking out against it, and providing moral support for those harmed, directly or indirectly, by incidents of hate. We also have the opportunity and obligation to listen across differences and to act in ways that nourish our vibrant and diverse campus community.

This spring we will sponsor for both our campus and broader community a series of conversations on divisive topics. These conversations will be guided by principles developed by a Rabbi, an Imam, and a preacher, who resolved to stay in the room with their differences and engage in conversations on difficult topics. These conversations were informed by intellectual curiosity and the desire to invest time and energy into learning more about a person, place, thing or concept — without the goal of trying to change the other’s mind. An important basis for these conversations is a genuine resolve to not reduce the other to a stigmatizing narrative or stereotype, and not compare one’s own best with the other’s worst. I look forward to sharing more information with you once dates, times and locations for these conversations are finalized.

As we grieve for the loss of life and threats to our humanity at the hands of continued hate crimes across our nation, I am reminded of the power we each hold to make a positive difference in our community. A simple act or word of kindness. A reach out to someone who may be struggling with a challenge in their life. An invitation to coffee or lunch. Anti-otherizing starts with us. Please join me in reaffirming the inherent dignity in all our campus community by taking action.

Dorothy Leland