Juneteenth and Hopes for the Future

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating freedom and African American culture. In this time of intense examination of racism and the legacies of inequality in this country, we here at Wesleyan are buoyed today by the proclamation from Mayor Ben Florsheim ’14 and our partners in the City of Middletown (including Professor Jesse Nasta ’07 and Armani White ’15). The proclamation officially establishes June 19—also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Jubilee Day, or Juneteenth—as America’s Second Independence Day, and underscores “our shared commitment to the spirit of the holiday through our words and our deeds.”

It’s important to mark positive steps, particularly in dark times. We were heartened this week by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the protections for the 700,000 young immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Years ago, Wesleyan purposefully began admitting more DACA students, and they have contributed so much to our campus. In 2016, we declared ours a sanctuary campus as an extension of that commitment.

Earlier in the week, we were also encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act extends to gender identity, helping to protect all our friends in the LGBTQ+ community against discrimination. As Jenny Boylan ’80 wrote: “What are these special rights I want? The same ones everybody else has. What is my gay agenda? It is the hope to live my life in peace.”

A pandemic has helped many of us focus on those who are most vulnerable, those who have continued to struggle to be safe, to be healthy, to be free. Today’s holiday and the Court’s recent decisions remind us that we must continue to defend all members of our community, especially those burdened by histories of oppression and systems of marginalization.

This morning I was on a call with Clifton Watson, who directs our Jewett Center for Community Partnerships, and Katja Kolcio, the incoming Director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. We spoke of E2020, Wesleyan’s program to promote learning through civic participation. The energy we see around us inspires us to work for change, and to learn from listening to others about how best to make our lives in common more inclusive, equitable and humane.

Happy Juneteenth!