President Ralph W. Kuncl writes to the University community following the January 6 events at the United States Capitol in Washington D.C.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Like many of you, I was transfixed by the coverage of yesterday’s monumental events at the Capitol—the mayhem of a mob breaching security and violently entering the sacred halls of our democracy, at the very moment our country was certifying the results of our democratic process. Those images have been seared into my memory and will live alongside other indelible moments in U.S. history I have witnessed, including the attacks of 9/11 and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy in the ’60s.
I write today to reaffirm on behalf of the University what we collectively believe—about truth, inclusiveness, and how they undergird democracy. Yesterday’s insurrection attacked not only the rule of law, but also the principles under which universities have derived their missions and work: to create an educated and informed citizenry. We cannot serve this purpose if the foundation underneath us is shattered.
As journalist David Leonhardt writes in The New York Times today, yesterday’s shocking events were a logical extension of messages from some leaders that American democracy is a fraud, that opponents are traitors, and that allies need to fight back. Others, such as CNN political correspondent Abby D. Phillip, noted the contrast in treatment of yesterday’s white rioters and the summer’s Black Lives Matter protesters. Ted Mitchell, the President of the American Council on Education, emphasized “the corrosive nature of today’s political rhetoric and its impact on civic dialogue, the cynical drive for unfettered power, the dangers of extremism, and the white privilege that marked the interactions of the rioters and police.” The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal called the episode simply a “disgrace.”
I join elected leaders from both parties in denouncing yesterday’s insurgency. My hope is that these events will represent a turning point, in which we can all recommit to an equitable democracy, through which we will rise to meet the aching challenges of our times.
We all lose if we embrace violence or even contentious divisiveness. Cynicism is an even worse response. I, for one, can avoid feeling jaded today because of this uplifting message I just received from one of you:
“I will share that yesterday’s events cause me to think about my mother. At the age of 23, she left her country and all that she knew, to journey on her first flight on an airplane, holding the hand of her three-year-old (me), and with $800 in her pocket, she set off for America to find a better life for her and her daughter. I remember how very proud she was many years later, when, as a newly minted citizen, she voted in her first election.
One of my proudest moments was becoming a citizen myself, and looking up to the visitors’ gallery at the courthouse to see a large group of my family, friends, co-workers and my boss waving little flags at me and cheering me on, as I took the oath of citizenship.
It may sound corny—but I have faith. I have to, because I know that I, like many others, stand on the shoulders of many who made it possible for me to be here. Democracy means so very much to so many people in this country and to people all around the world. I believe that in the coming days—while democracy may be bruised, challenged, and even tarnished a bit—it will remain a beacon and North Star to guide us.”
This is what undergirds us—opportunity. And what we do at universities is part and parcel of that, as we try desperately to inspire the next generation of citizens.
As we go forward together, I would like to acknowledge the emotional toll that these events may be taking on all of us. Please know that if you feel in need of additional support, assistance is available through the Employee Assistance Program (866-799-2728) or the student Counseling Center (909-748-8108). And, if you just want to talk about anything at all . . . I’m here for you, too.
With faith in our democracy,