The winds of change are upon us – gale force winds that our nation has withstood, yet not without much destruction.
Yes, the winds blew, yet they did not blow us down. We were battered, but also further awakened.
On January 6, our nation experienced an iconic windstorm – the equivalent of a “national derecho.” Our historic sense of who we are, as a nation and society, was challenged – and we survived. Like most endangering storms, this one was easily predicted by the “weather patterns” we have experienced. Radar was not needed for us to observe the clouds on the horizon. With predictable fury, the gusts came, the storm built and there was devastation in its wake.
The misinformation, untruths and associated insurrection, which culminated in the events of January 6, was beyond comprehension – yet not beyond one’s imagination. The constant promotion of false narratives and reinforcement for violence by national leaders must not ever again be tolerated.
The images were, and continue to be, disturbing and distressing. The despicable array of human behavior observed, and the response, displayed both a disrespect for law and historic patterns of injustice. Among the most unsettling of all was the palpable difference between the response by some of our nation’s leaders, as well as the lack of response by law enforcement, to the “band of marauders” who invaded our nation’s capital which was in stark contrast to the far more forceful and brutal reaction to protests in support of equity and justice represented by the Black Lives Matters movement last June. As painful as it was to watch the shameful events of January 6 unfold, my distress was even further amplified by the discriminatory contrast that was so evident.
As I continue to reflect on these events, I am comforted by the knowledge that our universities are centers for learning – and also places for debate and discourse. Mason, with its motto Freedom and Learning, is a sanctuary for bringing understanding to difficult, complex and often incomprehensible phenomena. Scholarship is about discovery while teaching is about seeking understanding.
Now, perhaps as much as anytime in the history of our republic, it is crucial for universities to do both. This is our responsibility. In fact, it is our “covenant” as scholars and educators to teach discernment and impart insight to our students. We have a rich tradition of facilitating difficult conversations and we must continue this critical work.
As we begin a new semester, let us all — faculty, staff and students – seek to discover and learn. Let us not sanction division; rather, let us learn from our differences, take intentional action in our personal and professional lives in support of justice and equity, and find strength from such common cause.
We must learn from the events of January 6 and its many precursors. Our classrooms must become laboratories for both discovery and learning – discovering a path forward that affirms our nation’s most exemplary values – respect for our laws and a commitment to justice, diversity, equity and inclusion.
As crises also bring opportunities, let the crisis of this moment be a catalyst for meaningful, enduring and demonstrative change and let our university be a place that embodies the best that our nation represents.