Colby’s reunion was originally scheduled for this weekend, and the Class of 1970 was to reconvene in Waterville for its 50th reunion. That class graduated at a most tumultuous time, which grew out of resentment about the Vietnam War, anger over the Kent State shootings, distrust in government and institutions more generally, and cultural divides that tore apart the nation and led to civil unrest and massive protests. Many members of the class fought for racial justice on campus and in the wider world then and have continued those efforts throughout their lives.
While much has changed in this last half-century, it is clear that our progress has been insufficient. That is true at Colby, where our commitment to creating and sustaining an equitable and inclusive campus is unwavering, but where we do not always live up to our ideals. We must do better. And it is certainly true in our broader society, where the persistent and pernicious effects of prejudice, racism, and systemic and structural inequities undermine our nation’s promise of equality. Many people experience the failure of that promise on a daily basis, and others rarely do. This is a moment for all of us to contribute to change, but especially those of us who benefit from the systems in place and never experience the daily and sometimes deadly consequences of bigotry, intolerance, and structural inequality.
This is a time of serious reflection and learning for many of us. It is also a time to act. Many among us have been in this fight for a long time, and to all of them, I owe my respect and gratitude. As I have reflected on the horrific events of recent weeks, I know I am one among many who can do far more. If you are as well, I invite you to join me in strengthening our personal commitment to advancing this essential work.
For me, this work always begins at Colby and emanates into our larger community. Last weekend I announced that we would launch a major scholarly, pedagogical, and community engagement initiative at the College focused on inequality across multiple domains (racial, educational, economic, health, environmental, and beyond). This aligns with our core mission and will provide support for our faculty’s scholarship on these issues while educating generations of Colby graduates with the knowledge and experience to identify, assess, and address issues of inequity and injustice in all aspects of their lives and our world.
We must also do more to support our students, faculty, and staff of color and all those who feel at the margins of our community. And we must address the need for structural and cultural change on campus to ensure Colby is a truly inclusive place where all its members can thrive. We have been implementing the work of a College-wide task force on diversity, equity, and inclusion, which has led to many positive changes. We must accelerate our progress on the recommendations of the task force and others that have come to light since that work was completed. I am asking our provost, Margaret McFadden, and our dean of the college, Karlene Burrell-McRae ’94, to lead this effort in collaboration with students, faculty, and staff. Their first charge will be to identify a set of initiatives that can be implemented this fall and have a material impact on the experiences of our campus community.
In our broader community, Colby has made a remarkable commitment to supporting Waterville economically and to helping build a brighter future for our city and all its inhabitants. On a personal level, I can do more to support organizations that are immersed in the hard and necessary work of serving those most in need in our community. I am doing that immediately, while also supporting national organizations that are empowering black communities and working to end racialized violence and the underlying causes that make it possible and pervasive.
I ask those of you who, like me, can do more, to see the urgency of this moment.
Normally I ask you to support Colby. Today, however, I am asking you instead to consider supporting (or adding further support to) the causes that are most meaningful to you—locally, nationally, or globally. I ask you to think about organizations that help end the struggles of our neighbors and those in our communities with whom we may never have contact but are so deserving of assistance. I ask you to consider organizations that are working to end the cycles of racism and violence, that heal people and communities, and that protect our most vulnerable.
Giving can come in many forms. If you can give your voice, give it with passion and let it be heard. If you can give time, give it with energy and commitment. If you can give resources, give them generously. Every one of our actions, small and large, will ripple across this country and around the world. Their combined force—this collective action—will bring us closer to the tenets that undergird the most profound promise of this country.
I recognize that this is an unusual request. But as we say, when the world calls, Colby answers. The world is calling us right now.
David A. Greene