Racism has no place in a just society

Dear Marquette community,

Recently, I was one of several members of our university’s administration who had the opportunity to attend a conference at Seattle University on the important subject of social justice in higher education. I was honored to spend time in the company of a diverse group of people, all of whom are doing the foundational work of Jesuit education: to think about how we can stand in solidarity and bring justice to an unjust world.

These discussions could not have come at a more apt time for our nation. During this conference, we all learned of the horrific events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

On behalf of President Mike Lovell, Provost Dan Myers and the many other committed and caring leaders of Marquette University, I am here today to tell you that we reject violence, denounce racism and bigotry, and acknowledge our obligation as educators to lead the way in seeking justice.

What happened in Charlottesville is shocking — but, at the same time, not shocking. At this point in our history, we see some American citizens thinking in nationalist terms. And nationalism, by its nature, is exclusionary. People are not included; they’re excluded. There is belonging…and not belonging.

This is in opposition to who we are as a nation. We’ve been a melting pot of people who create this better, greater whole. Right now, I see us struggling with what it means to hold that together.

In this moment, I wish I could talk to my mother, who passed away in 2002. My mother, Rose Ann, grew up in Laurel, Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. My grandparents, Willie and Arnell Wallace, were deeply afraid of her participating in civil rights activities through her church.

They were afraid that her church would be bombed. They feared for her safety. My mother had to decide what was more important: getting her civil rights granted or her personal safety? As was the case with many brave young people during that time, an 18-year-old woman chose the greater good. She put her personal safety aside, and she disobeyed her parents to participate in these civil rights activities.

Today, I am beginning to have a much more nuanced understanding of what it meant to live in those tumultuous times. That was no time for equivocation. Nor is right now. People need to decide where they stand on basic issues of right and wrong.

As we look to our mission, our responsibility as a Jesuit, Catholic institution is to look for avenues and solutions to create a just world. Charlottesville could have happened anywhere. It could have been at Marquette; it could have been in Milwaukee. When we see peaceful protestors attacked in an act of domestic terrorism, we need to be more vocal.

It is our job as educators to do what we can, in teaching and in doing, to dismantle these systems that we see being built on racism, nationalism, exclusionism and bigotry. We have to not only speak out, but to actively do more, in cooperation with our local community, to start our work where we are.

We’re about to welcome more than 2,000 new students to our campus — students from a wide variety of backgrounds. We must help them, and other members of our community, understand the value of sitting down at a common table in dialogue about the issues that divide and polarize us. There is much to be gained from speaking and listening to people who have different viewpoints.

Our challenge, and our opportunity, is to provide the tools for civil and sustained dialogue that can lead to resolving problems, rather than to sustained conflict that too often results in harm to persons. This is one of the most fundamental issues of our times, and our Catholic and Jesuit mission calls us to act on it. As members of the Marquette community, I welcome any thoughts you might have on how we can accomplish this together.

Sincerely,

Xavier A. Cole
Vice President for Student Affairs
Marquette University
xavier.a.cole@marquette.edu

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