Dear Campus Community:
I hope this note finds you well as we prepare for another great year of intellectual curiosity, growth and development.
I know you are aware of the national conversation surrounding race and how to acknowledge and interpret our collective past – all against a backdrop of sadness we feel after the events in Charlottesville, Va.
Several campus members have contacted me voicing their thoughtful opinions on a possible “flagging” to be held in my honor later this fall by a fringe political group. This is an “honor” I do not welcome and one that I denounce wholeheartedly.
I understand everyone’s dismay at such an event and recognize the emotional pain it may cause. We, as a campus community, all want the same thing at this institution: to learn, to enjoy our academic freedom and to work together and feel safe while doing it. I assure you that I – along with everyone at the College – will do everything in our power to keep our community safe. If that means banning from campus a group that poses a true threat to our safety, we will do that. We will do whatever is necessary.
Some might ask why I did not denounce this group when they first posted on social media about their “event.” First, instant outrage has never been my tact. I know in today’s 24/7 news cycle that immediacy is king, but I do not subscribe to that philosophy and practice.
Second, I did not want to give a fringe group like this a larger audience. This group craves attention and relevance, and a statement by me would only help in that. This group is a distraction to our mission, and I felt – and still feel – that we should not waste a single breath on naming them.
However, I am an attorney by trade and am well aware of the rights that even these fringe groups enjoy under our Constitution. There are Supreme Court cases that are very clear on what is allowed regarding protests. A march, or “flagging,” on public space is constitutionally protected unless there is an intent to incite violence. And, yes, I have been trying to thread the eye of a needle – keeping our campus safe while at the same time respecting freedom of speech, even when that speech is horrible and anathema to what we believe.
A fringe group wanting to come to campus is not the only issue. I may be hard of hearing, but I am not deaf to the issues surrounding the S.C. Heritage Act of 2000 – a piece of legislation that I helped shepherd into law as a member of the S.C. General Assembly. What we, as a state legislature, were trying to achieve in 2000 was a complex compromise.
In my opinion, the Heritage Act is working. Now as then, I didn’t see addition through subtraction. I feel we are better served when we understand our history – our full history. I would prefer we add to the existing monuments, provide more context so that they now tell a more complete story of our shared history. Like we do in our classrooms here at the College, we need for the monuments and memorials to tell both the good and the bad.
I know some of you may disagree with me on this point. You may see these monuments as symbols that are best left in history’s dustbin. And that is fine. It is in that disagreement that we witness the true beauty of this institution – that we can have our different opinions, treating each other with dignity and respect, and still work, side by side, for the common good of this school. In that, we are and will always be united.
Glenn F. McConnell ’69
College of Charleston
66 George Street
Charleston, SC 29424