Friday night another tragedy unfolded in New Rochelle, less than a mile from the Iona College campus. A black man was shot and killed in an altercation with a police officer. This event surely adds to the trauma of our community. Whatever the details of this case, it is yet another reminder that there is no time to wait: we must find better ways to live together, and that takes work.
Education may seem too slow, too pondering, too tame to be the answer. But better education is an essential part of what we need. From universal standards in police training to understanding the historical underpinnings of social, economic, and cultural structures, from the evolution of modern technology to the psychology of personal development, progress will be inadequate without effective education across all sectors of society. In addition to preparing us for careers, an effective education prepares us for responding to difficult situations with insight and an ability to understand alternative points of view; it also makes us alert to the structures of society that dictate so much of our experience.
Those of us in higher education can do more now. For too long, the expertise of the academy has failed to adequately influence public awareness and discourse. We have expertise in criminal justice, sociology, psychology, economics, education, health sciences, risk management, business, and public history as well as the disciplines that help us to understand the human condition — its complexity, its limitations, and its potential — through art and expression. No longer can we attend only to what transpires in our classroom, our academic conference, or our journal publications. Society needs us to engage in the moment, to shape the conversations underway so that we and others learn from them, and to envision a future that moves toward justice and non-violence. At Iona, we will sharpen our focus on the pressing issues of our time, deepen inquiry as a community of learners, and prepare our students to become the leaders of change our society needs.
In focusing on education as a means for social reform, we will not overlook immediate steps we can and must take. We need to speak out, we need to vote, we need to expand our circle of neighbors and friends, we need to resist injustice wherever we encounter it. But these actions will not be sustained if we ignore the difficult work of looking internally to examine what is in our hearts and souls. We must recognize the complexity of feelings, attitudes and biases that influence our actions. We must acknowledge that there are inclinations and emotions, which, left unchecked, can push us in directions we do not want to go. We must understand that being strong means getting better, not holding on to calcified prejudices and dispositions. Strength of character requires constant change through greater self-awareness and personal development—and through the hard work of listening to others. This work is almost impossible without effective education.
Iona College is a community of inquirers committed to the pursuit of truth and justice grounded in faith. With open hearts and a dogged commitment to a better tomorrow, we can make a difference. To start this process, I have reached out to campus leaders over the past several days to begin the conversations and the work we need to do. We will garner the expertise across campus to collaborate on ways we can have the biggest impact on our students, each other, and our community. Anything less would be a betrayal of our calling as educators and as members of the Iona community.