Dear College of Engineering students, staff, and faculty,
Watching the nation be torn apart is heartbreaking. I have spoken to my friends and advisors asking what I should do- what I should communicate. There is no training for an engineering dean to prepare for this kind of communication. There are the boilerplate phrases one should say- but they can’t reflect how I feel. Further, I simply do not have the eloquence of an English major, nor the diplomacy of a political science major. So, I will open my heart and share what I have to say, as rough as they may be.
The tragic loss of George Floyd on May 25th was terrible, painful, and should have been a wholly unnecessary reminder that we as a nation have not yet become a society without discrimination. Our nation has been moving towards this goal for many centuries, and there should be no doubt it has taken far too long. There should be no doubt that we cannot arrive there fast enough. While all of us face challenges in our lives, some far greater than others, many of us live our lives oblivious to the undue burdens placed on others due to their race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. I say us because while I don’t suffer this way, I refuse to define those who do as “them”. Us, and them. It is a way of dividing us and enabling the worst of our behaviors to find a toehold in our hearts. There cannot be a “them” in this.
I have dear friends from a variety of races; multiple friends who are gay; and many who are Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, and Hindu. Many do not share my gender. I am also friends with multiple police officers. Each of my friends has touched me in ways over my life to make me a much better person- one who continues to need to improve.
Those who I have been able to reach out to or hear from are appalled and heartbroken by the treatment of Mr. Floyd and what we all see and read. My heart is broken because I see so much anger rising up where is has no place. There is room here for anger, no doubt. But there is no room for the hatred that is being demonstrated, and much of the anger is misguided and mistargeted. We see it applied against police as a whole by some, and all protesters by others. We see vandals and rioters being confused with the peaceful protestors of #BlackLivesMatter. We see journalists covering these events also being assaulted and wrongly arrested. We see members of the police, the vast majority of whom are good and decent people who would not perpetrate such an act. Please do not fall into the tendency to group individuals or assess members of a group by the actions of a few. That is one of the pillars of discrimination.
This anger and hatred is heartbreaking to see. Hatred is one of the ugliest of feelings, and one of the most damaging to one’s self. I am grateful, though, to also have seen much of the best of humanity during these painful events. Trying to make sense of this I have watch numerous videos and read numerous articles. I have seen peaceful protestors who stopped a vandal during a protest arrest the criminal and turn them over to the police. I watched the police chief of Flint, MI set down his helmet and gear and join the protestors in solidarity. I listened to a passionate young woman in Louisville talk to soldiers and watched as they respond by taking a respectful knee with her in solidarity. Watching miscreants attempt to hijack peaceful and righteous protests to create anarchy, stir up hatred, and exercise power for its own sake is terrible. While there are surely many pretending to be a part of group, pretending to espouse their beliefs and vows, they are still few compared to the rest of us. We cannot allow them to drive our dialog. We cannot allow them to penetrate our hearts.
Those who are discriminated against know full well that recent events have just shined the light on the darkness that walks amongst us- they are far more likely to see that evil and be victims of it than the rest of us. As hard as these events are, there is some good having this light shone brightly. It raises awareness so that it cannot be ignored. It behooves all of us to look for the solutions to the problems of the aggrieved instead of blaming them.
There is only one path forward, and that is love. That is the message of Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. If we truly love one another, with full sincerity, we will come through this better in the end. True love means patience. It means not rushing to judgement and respecting individuals for themselves. It means we truly listen to the expressions of anguish and pain that we hear- and that we ask questions conveying that we truly care about one another. It is especially important to try to understand those who do not agree with us. Only through growing mutual understanding can we respectfully work towards a better future.
I cannot promise an outcome. I can promise that if we embrace inclusiveness, we will be a better people for it, and a better college. If we embrace true love for one another, we will be even better yet. These are my hopes for everyone during this time, but especially so for the college. We will never be stronger than our ability to embrace those who are different from us. I read in one tweet this morning a quote from Benjamin Franklin that resonates as much today as it did over 200 years ago: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” I would add to that a lesson I have learned over my life: the greatest reward we receive is by giving to others. Right now, those of us who are not amongst those who feel targeted or afraid must give. We must lend an ear, and give our hearts. There is no other good path forward.
Joseph C. Slater
Dean- College of Engineering
Tennessee Technological University
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