Letter from the Dean - Moving Forward Together

Michael J. Horswell

Tuesday, Jun 02, 2020

Dear students:

We are witness this week to yet another brutal murder of an African American man by police officers, and the resulting protests of another pernicious virus in our society: systemic racism. Our study of history, art, journalism, literature, film, politics, and society reveal the hundreds of years of past injustices, along with the contemporary failures of our political class, that have conflated into this explosion of frustration, of lament, of demands for real change. For all affected by this violent history and forbidding present, my heart goes out to you and your families. Let us employ the tools and lessons of our Arts and Letters disciplines to begin to heal our nation: critical and creative thinking, profound understanding of historical context, and expansive empathy, to name a few. 

One of my heroes from nineteenth-century America had something powerful to say that can be applied to these challenges facing our nation today. Frederick Douglass, former slave, self-taught author and orator, abolitionist, and international human rights advocate, spoke these words in 1857, several years before the U.S. Civil War:    

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Though you and I would have wished the demands for social and racial justice were achieved decades ago, it is not the case. The struggle goes on. The ‘many waters’ of our society are roaring today for justice and systemic change. It is a moral struggle that implicates each and every one of us. Those of us with power and privilege have the moral responsibility to listen to the demands, participate in the struggle, and work the fertile ground with our entire community with the hope that progress is made. As an administrator of this great University, it is my responsibility to listen to all of our students, faculty and staff as we move through these turbulent times. Please know that my door is open and I look forward to learning from all who are willing to work to ensure inclusive freedom and justice here and around our ever-shrinking world. 

I hope more of us listen to and learn from the great Americans like Douglass who built this country despite the persistent forces that made his life, and the life of so many of his race, a struggle and a continuous set of demands for justice and inclusion. That struggle continues and all of us are needed to join forces for the good. As Douglass also said, in 1869, as the nation debated the merits of a multicultural nation in the aftermath of civil war, “A smile or a tear has not nationality; joy and sorrow speak alike to all nations, and they, above all the confusion of tongues, proclaim the brotherhood of man.” So, as we shed our tears and gather our strength to look for future joys, let us move forward in brotherhood and sisterhood…knowing that better days are ahead and that we can overcome all injustice through the sharing of our empathy and our commitment to what is right. Our education begins, together, today.