View from College Hill
Each generation, it seems, has at least one catalyzing moment when many people respond to racial injustice with outrage. In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, along with the murders of other civil rights leaders, was one such moment. Late last spring, the violent death of George Floyd at the hands of the police was another.
While I cannot speak directly to what happened at Hamilton in the 1960s, John Chandler, Hamilton’s president from 1968 to 1973, sensed on campus “a troubling despair and cynicism about the character and direction of American society,” driven by anger at the war in Vietnam and the slow pace of progress on civil rights. Echoing Dr. King, President Chandler noted that “[m]illions of Americans — the black, the poor, the young — have decided to cash in the promissory notes of justice, freedom, and equality that have been issued by our basic institutions” but not delivered. He ended by sharing his belief “that a new order of justice will be achieved …”
I am dismayed that our society has not made greater progress toward that new order. We have all witnessed the pain, frustration, anger, and disbelief that followed the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others, and it is vital that all of us work to combat racism in all of its manifestations.
This special issue of Hamilton magazine is part of a much broader effort to help engage our community on issues of race. I am grateful to Edvige Jean-François ’90, a veteran producer who has worked for CNN and the Associated Press, for serving as our guest editor, and to the more than two dozen Black alumni and community members who contributed to this issue. They give voice to what it means to them to be Black in America. Their words do not describe the sentiments or experiences of everyone, and we recognize that members of other groups suffer discrimination and bigotry as well, but we hope our contributors’ reflections spark conversations and concrete actions.
Last June, I committed $1 million over five years and established an Advisory Council with broad representation to address diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Hamilton. In weekly meetings, members of the council studied Hamilton’s prior DEI efforts, met with individuals and representatives from various groups on campus, and tapped the expertise and independent perspective of a DEI consultant, who offered insights and recommendations based on what she heard during listening sessions she hosted with members of our community. The result is a series of proposals to create a more fully inclusive and equitable community at Hamilton. Their focus — and mine — is to identify steps we can take at Hamilton to implement structural changes that help foster “a community where all individuals, without exception, feel valued, empowered, and treated fairly.”
Our efforts are driven by our responsibility to educate the next generation of leaders who will help usher in that “new order of justice” President Chandler hoped for so many years ago.
We welcome your feedback and advice.