Our hearts break for the ten people killed and three others wounded by a racist gunman in a Buffalo grocery store last weekend. The anguish caused to the victims and their families, and to the broader Black community, is simultaneously unfathomable and yet too familiar. It is outrageous, unjust, and intolerable.
As I tried to comprehend the roots of this awful violence and our responsibility to create a better world, I re-read President Ruth Simmons’s brilliant and powerful Baccalaureate address to the Class of 2021, delivered almost exactly one year ago. President Simmons told the graduates that our nation is now in a time of “trial and adversity”:
"There are those who wish to re-propagate notions of racial superiority. Had we not seen this spoken and acted out, we might have thought the idea of such a resurgence far-fetched or even absurd. After all, an enlightened nation would never stand for it. But this dangerous turn is real and one that should make us sit up straight, take stock of how well we are focusing on improving our efforts in diversity, and recommit to the hard work of fostering mutual understanding. Every institution, every individual, and every community must turn its attention to fostering relations among people that allow us to live peacefully in a world rife with competing aims, conflicting opinions and diverse histories."
Her words rang true when she uttered them, and they are all the more potent today. The dangerous turn is indeed real. This University, and every one of us, must recommit to respecting the equality of persons, realizing the benefits of diversity, and bringing about a more just society.