*Editor’s Note: This letter was given permission to republish by Lynn Kapiloff ,the Chief Executive Officer and Publisher of the Prince George’s Sentinel.
Dear Members of the Sarah Lawrence Community,
As you know, I write to you from time to time about issues within the College and about national concerns that I feel are of direct relevance to our work at the College and the values of our community. I try to keep the bar for these communications high, and to hold myself to clear and compelling reasons for writing, so as not to fill your inboxes.
Sadly, this past week’s news cycle leaves me feeling compelled to write as your president, to affirm our values and our continuing commitment to inclusive excellence, to provide information about support services that are available for students who may be feeling overwhelmed by some of these events, and to encourage us all to use our intellectual resources to engage in creating solutions for the challenging issues we face as a nation.
First, in light of recently reported proposals by the Department of Health and Human Services and a potential executive order to limit gender identity, I want to affirm our continuing commitment to the transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary members of our community. We will continue to monitor these events and advocate on behalf of our community in light of these disturbing developments.
Second, I have written to you a number of times in the last year regarding the College’s concern about changes to immigration practices and policies that affect current Sarah Lawrence students and their families. The latest proposals regarding our borders, removal of support for low-income immigrants, and increasing restrictions on visas for students and scholars continue this worrying trend. The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration compiles information on these issues here.
Then, on Saturday, we learned of the unspeakable anti-Semitic attack and loss of life at a Pittsburgh synagogue; our hearts and thoughts go out to all those affected by this violence. And we watched this unfold on the heels of attempted violence that targeted prominent Democratic politicians and their supporters with mailed explosive devices.
I have kept my accounting of each of the above concerns brief—limited to a few sentences—while each could merit its own extended exposition.
But my focus here is to ask: What can we—as individuals and a community—do? And, what must we do? I hope that our first response is to denounce collectively the violence borne from extremist rhetoric and intolerance, whatever its source. We know at Sarah Lawrence that words do matter. Secondly, I would exhort all of us to become knowledgeable about the issues in all of their complexity. As part of the “Difference in Dialogue” series, a number of upcoming panels are particularly relevant to the troubling issues I have catalogued above. Through public forums and initiatives such as these, along with ongoing campus conversations and activities, my hope is that we as a College will lead on moving such issues forward. Please share your suggestions with me for additional curricular and co-curricular programming on these issues.
At this moment in history, the most powerful advocacy will come not from statements such as this by college and university presidents, but from the collective voices of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and families reaching out directly to their respective elected officials in Congress. If you feel strongly about the issues above, now is the time to convey your convictions to the Representatives from your home district. You can use the website https://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ to find your Representative and then send a message of your choosing on this issue. You can find and contact your home-state Senators at: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/.
And it is incumbent upon all of us to exercise our right to vote. The College has provided access to turbovote.org as an easy way for students to register to vote and to obtain absentee ballots. For students registered locally, we will be providing shuttles to the local polling place throughout the day on election day.
Even as I encourage you to join me in addressing pressing issues in the larger policy realm, let me return to a more personal note, to express again our support for our students; our respect for the variety of challenges they have overcome on the path to college; our support and affirmation for the variety of identities and experiences they bring to our College, and the contribution they make to a diverse and inclusive community; and our reiteration of the promise of a Sarah Lawrence education and the productive life to which it leads.
Finally, for students who need a space to talk or decompress in the face of any of the challenges I have outlined above, I would remind you that the Health & Wellness Center is available, as well as the Office of Diversity & Campus Engagement.
Cristle Collins Judd