Last week faculty and staff returned to SJSU for the fall semester. Classes started on Wednesday (August 23, 2017), and the next day the President gave her annual Fall Welcome Address. She started the address by discussing the August 11-12, 2017 violence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville surrounding marches and rallies by White supremacists. I also discussed the protests and counter-protests at the conclusion of the College of Social Sciences welcome event, on Monday, August 21, 2017. See below for the transcript.
To close, let me read two brief items to you.
(1) The first is a note I sent to the college the day after the November 8, 2016 U.S. elections:
Dear Social Sciences Family-
Many of us are shocked and saddened by yesterday’s election and our nation’s deep divisions. It seems that across all aspects of the political spectrum many actions were driven by ignorance and fear instead of knowledge and hope. As we process these results two social media posts by colleagues may be good to keep in mind:
“Out of touch. Like me, you are out of touch with the majority of our country if you did not vote for Trump. (I am not a Hillary supporter either….so I am even more out of touch than most.) Whether or not you are right, does not change that we are out of touch. That said, the best route forward is not to vilify those who don’t think like us, nor condemn them as stupid or ignorant, but instead to understand how and why the majority came to be so different from us.”
“Being a teacher/writer/advocate has never been more important. Let’s fight for the next generation. I’m fired up and ready to go.”
In these challenging times let’s remind ourselves of our mission to help our students and the broader community create more complex and nuanced understandings of their social worlds. Our work matters more than ever now.
Warmest Regards, Walt
(2) The second was the start of an article from last week in The Chronicle of Higher Education (“Teaching Newsletter, August 17, 2017”):
The violent demonstrations by white nationalists this past weekend at the University of Virginia have brought renewed attention to one of higher education’s biggest challenges: fostering civil dialogue in class.
There’s no shortage of guidance available. Groups like Project Pericles, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project have been working to help students engage in constructive conversations, especially during fraught times.
When the students return on Wednesday many will be extremely anxious about the futures. From undocumented students worried about their ability to stay in school and study, to students of color wondering if they are safe when formerly closeted bigots are emboldened to openly express their hate, to the increased unease of all students about their economic futures in the midst of worldwide upheaval, the next few weeks will be difficult times.
I know that many of you are already making changes to engage the challenges we will face. For instance, at least two Assistant Professors rewrote their syllabi after the atrocities in Charlottesville. And the SJSU Fall 2017 Faculty Professional Development Series on Whiteness and Race is more timely than ever. I applaud and thank all who have already thought deeply about how we can move forward to build a better society.
I know that many more instructors will use tools such as those listed in the Chronicle article. Others will develop and powerfully implement new ideas over the semester. In the development I encourage you to draw on the collective experience and wisdom of your colleagues. Together we are stronger.
Earlier in this event we discussed new investments in our Ethnic Studies programs. There are also other social justice proposals in development that will help us create more democratic societies. Our work as social scientists is crucial in that endeavor.
So, on the one hand this concluding note could dampen a traditionally celebratory event, but on the other it is a testament to our vibrancy. When I started as CoSS dean two years ago one of the Chairs remarked, “Collaboration is in your DNA!” Well, I was drawn here because collaboration is an essential component of the college as a whole; collaboration is in our DNA. Tough times are ahead, but we will collectively generate ideas that will get us through the current mess as we build better places on the other side. I look forward to the journey with you all. Have a good semester!