Taking the Side of Our Values
Like many Americans, I have been appalled by the images of hatred and bigotry broadcast from Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend, and my heart breaks at the loss of another life from what appears to have been an act of domestic terrorism. The fact that these events took place on and around the campus of one of the most distinguished universities in the country adds to my sense of horror and disgust.
Communities are not built from shared geography alone, nor by traditional songs and ceremony, nor by the simple exhortation of a leader to “come together.” Communities are built by a strong, shared commitment to core values. At Kenyon, this includes our commitments to rigorous inquiry and creative expression; to respect and empathy toward others, including individuals with different backgrounds and experiences; to the importance of dissent in a democracy; and to the civic principles of liberty, justice and equity.
Our commitments to respect and empathy for others and to the importance of dissenting viewpoints does not default to a relativist stance that every issue or action has “many sides.” In fact, more often than not respect and empathy demand that we take a side. Students of world history and culture readily recognize the hateful rhetoric on display in Charlottesville and know where it has led in the past, whether in 1930s Germany or in the lynch mobs of the U.S. This is an instance where our shared values require us to reject clearly and unequivocally the forces of racial hatred and bigotry.
The Charlottesville nightmare stands in stark contrast to the activities on the Kenyon campus as the summer winds down and the new school year begins. On Sunday, over 100 members of the local community gathered on Middle Path to express our anger and sadness about the events of the weekend (photo above). We also welcomed 36 incoming international students this weekend, from 19 different countries, to the campus they will call home for the next four years. And in a few days, we will open new spaces in downtown Gambier for the Snowden Multicultural Center and Unity House, as well as new housing for our volunteer firefighters, placing our values of diversity and community service quite literally in the center of our campus.
In other words, we not only reject the hatred on display in Charlottesville, we aim to build a community and an institution that lives in stark opposition. As we move into the new academic year, let us all continue to put our shared values into action.