What a summer it has been! Around the world there has been an escalation of hatred and violence — vitriol is flowing in all corners of the globe. Aggressive Russian action against Ukraine continues, and the reactions of the West, however tepid, may be leading to a new Cold War. In the Middle East the killing continues at an accelerated pace. Rockets fired by Hamas fighters from Gaza (sometimes from behind schools and hospitals) into Israel has led to a brutal response that seems only to further reduce the chances for a peace settlement. It is heartbreaking to see the destruction wrought by Israeli strikes, particularly those that have hit the university, shelters and schools. Images of the wounded children burn in my mind.
In Syria the death toll now approaches 200,000, and the mayhem in this failing state is having reverberations throughout the region. ISIS fighters have slaughtered countless civilians who don’t share their particular religious commitments. The horrific beheading of journalist James Foley can stand for so many unspeakable acts. American military activity will certainly be increasing in the coming weeks, who knows with what results?
Here in the United States we have been facing our own crisis because of police acts that evoke long histories of racism and violence. The recent deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles and of Michael Brown in Missouri — all unarmed black men — remind us of the struggle that remains to achieve anything like “equal protection under the law.”
And let us not forget the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in the spring. We tweeted “bring our girls home,” but the heinous activities of the barbaric group continue unabated. Education for girls remains a right we must struggle to protect.
Why rehearse these horrors as we prepare to begin the academic year? I am thinking about them as a reminder to myself how fortunate I am to be part of a community where disagreement, even intense disagreement, can lead to learning — and not violence. At Wesleyan we will engage issues, and we will do so in order to understand ourselves and the world a little more clearly. The point of this understanding is to be empowered to act more effectively and responsibly beyond the university. Our learning community is one that values inquiry, and, of course, inquiry can often be upsetting, even destabilizing. But we should know that our campus is a place that refuses violence and cultivates care. Our willingness, our responsibility, to look out for one another is one of the qualities that make alma mater such a vital place.
As summer winds down and students, faculty and staff get set to begin the academic year, let us be aware of the work we still have to do to make Wesleyan a more equitable, inclusive and positive community. And let us also be thankful that it is already a place at which we can learn from one another, disagree with one another, and know that we do so within an ethos of peace and respect.