To the Iona Community:
I have been hesitant to write this message. Not because I am unsure about its need, not because I do not share in the outrage and sadness over George Floyd’s murder, not because I do not know that this is another example, in a seemingly endless list, of racially motivated brutality and injustice; certainly not because I believe that the disease of American racism is too complex to tackle. I hesitate because statements like this don’t seem to accomplish much. Much of what I wish to say has been said too many times by others more qualified, and yet our country still suffers and seethes. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to speak out to our community this morning.
This past week I released the highlights of our plan for reopening Iona College for the fall semester in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were able to share that plan because over the past couple of months we have gained a better understanding of COVID-19, of how to mitigate its transmission, and, most importantly, of how to protect as best we can our community. The last few days remind us that we face another chronic pandemic, racism, that demands equal, even greater, attention and resolve, both personally and politically. Just as we have dedicated ourselves to reorganizing our operations in response to COVID-19, we will dedicate ourselves to the hard work required to respond to racial injustice.
As committed and sincere educators, we believe in the power of education to effect change. We tell ourselves that education is the great equalizer, the means to elevate all of us to a higher moral plane. We believe too that we are the drivers of social progress. Our mission statements have always spoken to the pursuit of truth and justice; in more recent times these statements of purpose emphasize and celebrate diversity.
Today, all around us, we see awful evidence that educational missions such as ours are critical for our social and political well-being as well as for our personal development. If these missions are failing to stem the tide of racism or to quell the violence it nourishes, we must rededicate ourselves to the values those missions espouse but find better ways to realize them on our streets, in our neighborhoods, in our cities—and on our own campus and in our own classrooms.
Edmund Rice founded the Christian Brothers 218 years ago to combat discrimination and oppression by bringing the gift of education to the poor people of Ireland. We must honor that mission by being as attentive to the small and large violence of the racism around us, and within us, as we are to the ravages of the novel coronavirus. To call either an invisible enemy is to deny the realities that threaten our common good; to confront these realities with strong hearts and minds is what it means to fight the good fight.