Reflections on This Moment
This is an unprecedented moment in our history; we all feel it. The pandemic continues to be deeply challenging for everyone, and tragic for too many. Now, the horrifying death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have followed are weighing heavily on all our minds. COVID-19 has magnified and exposed our most deeply embedded failings and fault lines. We stand with the Black community, our hearts aching for a country so divided by racial injustice, arrogance, and hatred. It’s hard not to be sad, not to be angry, and to remain hopeful.
In the face of cruelty, fear, and anxiety, we need to search for what we can still hold on to, what we can still believe in. We can all be proud that the mission of the Library—to educate, welcome and respect all perspectives, convene safe and productive conversations, and offer opportunity to all—directly combats divisiveness, ignorance, hate, and racism. It is and remains our founding idea: that everyone can learn and contribute, and must be respected. And in learning about others we learn about ourselves and hopefully find ways to live together, to embrace and better understand each other.
Our varied backgrounds and experiences within our city and society are our greatest source of strength: bringing new ideas and perspectives, teaching empathy, and shining a light on how we falter. But not if we close our eyes and ears to the lessons of diversity, rejecting the validity and equal value of experiences and lives other than our own. When we fail as a society to respect learning and each other, we become inhumane and untold tragedy follows.
We all have a responsibility to actively participate in our democracy as informed citizens, to collectively refine, demand, and enact justice. Educating ourselves further about the legacy of racial injustice in this country is a key piece of this.
The Library, your Library, is committed to enabling that learning. We will offer every tool, book, and collection we can, welcome and serve all, and encourage all to respect each other, learn together and from one another. All the accumulated knowledge we hold reminds us that we are capable, yes, of horror, but on balance, we are still capable together of imagining and achieving better.
For 125 years, whether in person or for now only online, we have led the fight against ignorance to support understanding, empathy, and solidarity. In this difficult moment, we reinforce our mission, and stand with all of our communities against injustice and racism.
Thank you, and please stay safe.
Anthony W. Marx
President, The New York Public Library
June 1, 2020
I am a devoted New York Public Library patron.
This message came in the form of an email.
I was hoping that Mr. Marx might say something about library services and plans for or the possibility of reopening.
If I may be permitted to do so, I ask what has Mr. Marx said here? Perhaps we have had similar thoughts in our private musings. But what is his purpose in writing this message? To library supporters and patrons. What has he said that might affect our views on anything one way or the other? And what does any of this have to do with the library, or Mr. Marx’s role as its president?
– posted by Roger W. Smith
June 1, 2020
addendum, June 2
There have been similar posts this evening from other cultural institutions in the City such as the Park Avenue Armory and Queens Public Library.
It has occurred to me that what Mr. Marx and the other executives of these institutions are doing amounts to preening. They are using the tragic death of George Floyd to get credit for THEMSELVES and perhaps increased support for their institutions. Should I, should I be so inclined, put a post here stating the obvious: that I am greatly distressed about George Floyd’s death — to perhaps show myself in a good light as someone who cares? Should I, could I afford it, take out an advisement in a newspaper for the same purpose? What would the point be? All decent people feel the same way. Should I tell everyone that I do? Do they need to hear that? Would it do them good to hear it?
addendum, June 10
The following are recent messages sent by email to alumni and members of the Brandeis University community by Brandeis University President Ronald D. Liebowitz.
June 1, 2020
Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,
George Floyd’s killing was cruel, inhumane, and contemptible. The injustice of violence against black people must stop.
The history of our great university is intertwined with the pursuit of justice. Brandeis was created in response to antisemitism and bigotry. We cannot tolerate discrimination, hatred, or violence against another person based on their race, religion, or background. These values are as important today as they were at our founding.
These are not just words or noble ideas. These are principles that inspire us at Brandeis to educate, to learn, and to act.
With that in mind, I join with Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer, in calling for us to come together, even if virtually. In the message Mark sent on Friday, he mentioned two different events happening this week. The Heller School is hosting a conference, “Co-Constructing Racial Justice through Life and Work.” And Mark will host “Coming Together to Face Systemic Racism.” I hope you will join me in attending both.
As Brandeisians, not all of our experiences are shared ones. We come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives. But I know that there are some things we have in common. This includes an unwavering commitment to justice, equity, and inclusion. It includes respecting other people, no matter their background.
I hope to see you at one of the events tomorrow or the next day. Let us come together to express our commitment to ending racist violence.
June 9. 2020
Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,
Black Lives Matter.
Last week, I wrote to all of you saying violence against Black people must stop. The killing of George Floyd by police was inhuman, contemptible, and tragic. We gathered together virtually, and I heard many of you express outrage, fear, and the exhaustion of living with cruel racism in your lives and on our campus.
I said then that we must do more; we must do better.
In that spirit, I am announcing an initiative that will transform our campus and address systemic racism. I have asked key administrators to develop and submit action plans in the next 90 days.
• These action plans must include ongoing, significant engagement with members of the campus community. We must listen, and understand the kinds of systemic racism, bias, and ill-treatment experienced by Black members of our community. But we must go further than dialogue and understanding. We must rapidly move toward concrete change.
• The action plans I am calling for must be transformational, including new approaches regarding the roles and responsibilities of Public Safety, the Department of Community Living, Human Resources, Athletics, the Academy, and all of us who are charged with creating and sustaining a safe, respectful environment for learning and living.
• Action plans must be developed with broad input from diverse constituencies. Black students, Black student organizations, other students of color, other student organizations, faculty, members of each of the aforementioned departments, and other staff should all be invited to be part of the drafting process.
I am asking the following administrators to develop and submit these action plans by September 1:
• Executive Vice President Stew Uretsky, Vice President of Campus Operations Lois Stanley, Vice President for Human Resources Robin Switzer, and Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Ed Callahan for the plans for Public Safety and Human Resources
•Vice Provost for Student Affairs Raymond Ou, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Tim Touchette, and Director of Athletics Lauren Haynie for the plans for Community Living, Residential Life, and Athletics
• Provost Lisa Lynch, Dean Eric Chasalow, Dean Dorothy Hodgson, Dean Katy Graddy, Dean David Weil, and Vice President Lynne Rosansky for the plan for the Academy and its constituent Schools
Despite concerted efforts to address past incidents on campus, discrimination and bias continue to be issues for us at Brandeis. While we have piloted a number of initiatives, most of them voluntary in nature, across the university, we are committed to a more comprehensive approach to addressing racism in order to build stronger, more respectful relationships within the community.
Our university was founded on principles of inclusion that are as relevant today as they were in 1948. As I said at the community virtual gathering last week, we have not always lived up to our ideals, but those ideals — our values — point us in the right direction. The administration and I are committed to moving beyond “business as usual” and requesting voluntary efforts for change. We must work together to build a community that is diverse, welcoming, and free from bias and discrimination.
These communiqués are similar to the above email sent by Anthony W. Marx, President of the New York Public Library, on June 1.
I am a Brandeis University alumnus. The school has always been a liberal, forward looking place, in terms of views on the issues and the university community. University President Liebowitz feels it is incumbent upon him — he has taken upon himself, as have administrators of all sorts of educational and cultural institutions — to articulate his views at this time as the voice of the university.
But what has he said? What do these communiqués tell us? Why is he writing?
Because he feels he ought to say something.
President Liebowitz says in his first communiqué: “We cannot tolerate discrimination, hatred, or violence against another person based on their race, religion, or background. These values are as important today as they were at our founding.” And, in the second, he writes: “We gathered together virtually [after the murder of George Floyd], and I heard many of you express outrage, fear, and the exhaustion of living with cruel racism in your lives and on our campus.”
This is so vague as to be meaningless.
If there are racial injustices embedded in university policies — or in present campus realities — President Liebowitz could have said what they were, without necessarily going into detail. Then, we could see what they were; what problems he feels the university should address; and steps he is contemplating or undertaking. No such problems or injustices are mentioned. They are conspicuous by the absence of any mention of them.
So why should one read these communiqués? President Liebowitz did mention that the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis was hosting two conferences on addressing the problem of systematic racism. They don’t sound interesting to me, but at least this is informative.
Here, in essence, is the letter I would have written: We deplore the murder of George Floyd. We deplore the racism endemic in our society and the murder of our black citizens. We are ever mindful of these issues and are holding two virtual conferences this week that you may wish to attend. …
— Roger W. Smith
post updated June 10, 2020