1.19.21 | Dear students: On Writing "Dear Students" Letters
Under normal circumstances, today’s letter from me would have been a simple welcome back to school for the semester and a pleasant encouragement to do your best this spring.
But, these are far from normal circumstances.
So while I do want to welcome you back, I also want to write to you and talk a bit about when and why I write these letters. Informally, I refer to the emails—communications to you all about momentous events at CCAD or important happenings in the world around us—as “Dear Students” letters. As in, “X happened yesterday, should I write a ‘Dear Students’ letter about it?”
Though personal, they are intended to reflect the mission and values of the college, not only my opinions. They are intended to inform, encourage, and reassure you about issues relevant to students and CCAD—moments of crisis or violence in our community, federal legislation that might directly impact you or your classmates, matters of importance to higher education and the arts.
And, each letter I write is with careful consideration for you, my Dear Students.
Unfortunately, so much is happening in our world today, that I cannot possibly respond to it all, and yet the alternative of saying nothing is certainly not an option. I believe that institutions of higher education, in fact, have an obligation to speak publicly, not about partisan politics but about right and wrong, about the values of truth, compassion, and equity so important to our core mission. And, I hope you will extend me and your college some grace if there is a moment important to you that does not spark a letter.
For example, on Dec. 22, Andre Hill, an unarmed Black man was shot and killed by Columbus police, and I did not write to you to express our institutional anger, but that does not mean it wasn’t felt. Every time this happens is tragic, important, and deeply disturbing. But, the unfortunate rapidity of recurrence makes commenting on every such incident risk becoming numbing or, worse, retraumatizing.
I also did not write after the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Wednesday, Jan. 6. To be honest, in the moment it seemed so absurd and obviously wrong that I didn’t think you needed me to tell you that or that I had to put it in writing in order for you to know where CCAD stood on the matter. But, clearly, the actions that followed—the refusal by some to swiftly condemn those involved, the armed protests we saw spread across the nation—have proven that the “wrongness” of those actions may not have been so obvious to all.
So, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day yesterday, the start of school today, the U.S. presidential inauguration tomorrow, and the pandemic still looming large across all these days, I did want to reach out to you.
I wanted to say, I know. I know these times are not normal.
I understand. I understand that while today may still be filled with excitement and anticipation for the semester ahead, it’s probably also tinged with worry and uncertainty.
And, I get it. I get it that while I believe words and speaking out are vital to our community, to our democracy, they’re not enough. That’s why CCAD continues to work on our own Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Action Plan with great speed and earnestness.
With all this in mind, you may also hear from other leaders at the college like Vice President for Institutional Engagement Chris Mundell, who chairs of our Presidential Commission on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Provost Julie Taggart who will update you on academic issues, or Dean of Students Athena Sanders who will address student matters. I will continue to send these more personal “Dear Students” letters a few times a semester when events at CCAD or the world around us call for one.
If you’d like to read past letters you can find them here.
And, as always, I’d love to hear from you. Yes, this is really me writing, and this is really my email address. If you reach out, I’ll respond. I may not always get it right, but I promise that my attempts are sincere and compassionate, and I hope you will share your thoughts and questions directly with me with the same level of sincerity and compassion.
And, of course, it IS the start of what will undoubtedly be a challenging but successful semester, so best of luck on your endeavors this spring. Be well and do well.