Presidential Note to Students in the Wake of Rising Racial Tensions
April 15, 2021
Oberlin’s mission is inherently optimistic. As an institution, we proudly work to prepare students of all races, colors and creeds to “create change and value in the world.”
Ours is a precious notion to be nurtured in a world that too often turns a blind eye to the progress of the human spirit.
As I see the pain and doubt that has filled the eyes of our students in recent weeks, it is clear to me that if we let down our guard for one moment the relentless ugliness we see on our screens daily could extinguish the very spark that is the source of both our optimism and our way of being in the world.
That is why, despite the horrors we see nightly on videos, despite the terrible loss people of color are experiencing, despite the toll that hate and ignorance are extracting from every corner of our society, Obies and others of good conscience must not waver.
Despite the murder of George Floyd and the horrific video we all have seen countless times. Despite the videos of unprovoked racially inspired violence against Asians. Despite the desperate pleas of Army Lt. Caron Nazario (“What’s going on?”). Despite the disregard for Daunte Wright’s life. We must remind ourselves that we hold something far too precious to abandon—that sacred spark that leads to change.
For Oberlin students, especially those of color, I know this is particularly poignant. One of the things I admire about you is your desire to heal the hearts and minds of those around you. You seek to engage, to change outlooks. For you, this onslaught of violence and ugliness is a surprising regression you didn’t plan for. You oftentimes expect only progress. The backwards movement of recent years challenges your sense of optimism.
The difficult truth is that sometimes living through a seemingly relentless string of events such as these is what it is like to be a person of color in America. I do not say this to discourage. This is a great country filled with promise and opportunity. As MLK said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” It will ultimately bend toward right and equality, but not always on the timetable we desire.
Whenever I have doubts about this, I think about the world my parents grew up in. They had to overcome the Jim Crow practices of the Deep South. And you know what? They had faith and they fought and they overcame despite it all.
I don’t know how the upturn in violence against the AAPI community will abate. I don’t know how the trial of Derek Chauvin is going to end. On too many similar occasions, the criminal justice outcomes have been confounding and crushing.
So I will tell you what I have faith in. I have faith in the moral arc of the universe. I have faith in our abilities to persevere. I have faith in the goodness of people. And I have faith in you, Obies.
I believe in your generation. All of you. Regardless of the color of your skin. You all have the desire to pull together, to support one another through anything, to see the world and be the change it needs in ways I cannot imagine. You are among my greatest sources of hope, and one of the reasons my spark burns brightly.
Carmen Twillie Ambar