College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell ’69 issued the following statement to the campus community on Aug. 17, 2017:
Dear Campus Community:
Last weekend, we all saw the horrible acts of violence and anger carried out by white supremacists and neo-Nazi hate groups in Charlottesville, Virginia. These beliefs and this kind of hate have no place in America, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families affected by last weekend’s violence. And while that tragedy did not happen here in Charleston, hate and intolerance are not confined to a single zip code – a lesson our beloved city knows all too well.
I wanted my note today to follow up on our campus statement earlier this week regarding this tragedy: ‘The College of Charleston offers its sincerest condolences to the victims and their families affected by the tragic events last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. The deaths and injuries from that weekend represent yet another dark chapter in our country’s history as it relates to race and bigotry. The College of Charleston condemns the white supremacist hate groups that gathered there in order to sow seeds of division, fear and violence. As an institution of higher education, the College of Charleston reaffirms its commitment to its core values of diversity, respect for the individual student and community – values that should inspire all of us to find common ground, for that is where our greatest and truest strength lies.’
Like much of our country’s history, South Carolina’s past as it relates to race is complicated and emotional. There are many wounds – spanning generations – still in need of healing across our state. And we must move forward, rather than look backward.
This conflict of race is one that has been waged for a very long time and has taken many forms. During the late 1960s, when I was a classmate with the first students of color here at the College, there was a general feeling in the air of progress – an ushering in of a new era in our nation – but we were really only seeing yet another chapter in this conflict play out, with many more to come.
I am not as naïve and idealistic as I was back then to think that these issues surrounding race and equity will ever completely vanish from our country. But I am still full of hope, now more so than ever, that we can be better today than what we were yesterday. We have taken many steps forward; we must not stop; and we won’t. Because what I see on this campus – in the classroom, on the playing fields, out in the community – is the continuing fulfillment of the American promise: of building a place, always more perfect, where people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and worldviews can come together, work together and learn together.
On a daily basis, I see our campus members living up to our institution’s seven core values, especially as it relates to integrity, diversity and inclusion, respect for the individual student and community. I have found that by turning to our core values in times of struggle, we always find the true and right path. For this is a place where good is done, a place where we bring people closer together, rather than pushing them further apart.
We, as a campus community, will certainly be tested this year. The issues our country are facing as it relates to bigotry and hate, to competing political agendas and political ideologies, are more polarizing than ever. Common ground seems continents apart with so much divisive and hateful rhetoric in the air.
What I share with you next is the hard part, the most difficult aspect of our shared university culture – we all are going to have to be patient and resilient with uncomfortable ideas. That is a critical part of inclusion: sharing space with people who don’t share your ideas and beliefs. Here, at the College, we are training you to be critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers, to see the complexities in any situation.
This world is complicated, and we are teaching our students – in every academic discipline – to see beyond the sound bytes and memes in order to draw their own thoughtful conclusions. On our College of Charleston seal, we have the Latin phrase Sapientia Ipsa Libertas: “Wisdom Itself Is Liberty.” Wisdom is an important concept to us here at the College. Wisdom is more than book knowledge; it is the recognition and application of ideas, of using facts and information in a way that is positive, actionable and makes a difference.
To gain that wisdom, you will be challenged – both by forces inside and outside the university. At different times, events and personalities may make you angry, sad, outraged, joyful, inspired. However, in no case should you ever be fearful or afraid. This campus is made up of many diverse voices – sometimes a cacophony – but we are unified in our song of free expression celebrating the civil dialogue of ideas. As a member of our community, you should always feel safe and welcomed, and I assure you that the College will use every means available to keep our community safe. Our response, whatever the situation may dictate, will not be an attempt to block or limit free speech, but to protect the well-being of our campus members. Safety – for all of our students, for all of our faculty, for all of our staff – is our utmost priority, and we will work tirelessly to ensure that safety for all.
During the year, I may share opinions on a variety of topics with which you may personally disagree. You may hear from campus members espousing ideas that push you to think in ways that are intellectually uncomfortable. And that is part of the college experience. But know this: The only consensus we must strive for is that we, as a campus community, all respect and value one another’s opinion.
I am certain that our diversity is our greatest strength. We, at the College of Charleston, are stronger because we value inclusion. We are stronger because we are working towards a shared future. We are stronger because we seek wisdom – together.
Glenn F. McConnell ’69
College of Charleston