May 31, 2020

To the Oberlin Community,  

These last few days I have found myself at a loss. At a loss for words. At a profound loss of self, and at a loss for a community that I love, and of which I am a part. 

At every turn it seems we are watching in anguish a world that views African-Americans as less than human and unworthy of dignity. Not deserving of life itself. The black community – my community – is in excruciating pain. We are contending with what appears to be an unending well of racism and bigotry.

George Floyd’s agony was palpable. It would be natural for some to avert their eyes. To reframe recent events and to make them singular so that they do not seem like a societal ill, but rather a moment in isolation. But I can assure you that these events are not isolated and they are not singular.

We are witnessing an unraveling and a democracy that is now in search of its foundational societal norms.  Hatred, anger, illness and death fill our screens. There is grief at the abandonment of our ideals and a tearing of the heart as we see the impact on our children.

Sending young people out into the world to reshape it, and to make it different, is how I have spent my career. Oberlin has had from its founding a commitment to solving racial inequity. We view our institution as a place where students come first to be educated, but where they also translate that education into something more. We seek understanding and creative ways of advocacy. We work so that the marginalized are no longer at the edges but rather at the center.

It is clear that we are falling short as a nation. Every George Floyd reminds us of the truth. We wonder if we are standing still, or even worse, if we are retreating. 

Yet, each day I hope. I hope because I simply refuse to despair, and because I see reason to hope every September. My hope is with the students who grace this campus. Every year we observe a different unending well here at Oberlin. Students arrive in the fall with a seemingly insatiable level of curiosity, a love and appreciation of difference, and an unyielding view that what has always been, does not have to be.

My hope is with our students. Hoping that they will have the courage to face the world as it is, and to be unrelenting in their desire to see it change.

To that end, this upcoming year I will establish a Presidential Initiative for faculty and students that seeks to address issues of violence, police-community relationships, and racial injustices. One could imagine courses, co-curricular initiatives, community engagements, and internships focused on the very issues that the death of George Floyd invokes. The primary goal of this initiative is not purely for learning, but for learning that demonstrably is applied to our world.

This small effort will not change what happened to George Floyd, but it is in keeping with who we are at Oberlin. I believe in our students and their impact on a generation that can place our nation back on the right path.

My hope is with our students. I see their passion and commitment and desire to do good in the world, and it moves me.

This country needs that hope now more than ever before.

President Carmen Twillie Ambar