A Call to End Racial Harassment on Campuses

Recently, the Department held a meeting with campus leaders from around the country — presidents, faculty, legal experts and student leaders — to tackle the issue of racial harassment on campuses and to lay out solutions to foster supportive educational environments. In the wake of recent incidents of racial harassment on college campuses across the country, Secretary Duncan penned an Op-Ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to share highlights from the meeting.

Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark, was in attendance and wrote a statement in solidarity to the Rutgers community, sharing the university’s support for students calling for an end to racial harassment on campuses and for institutions of higher education to do their part to make social change.

Dear Members of the Rutgers University-Newark Community:

As the world continues to process the horror of the violence that claimed so many innocent lives in Paris on Friday night, we, too, at Rutgers University – Newark feel profound shock and bewilderment.  Our minds go to other places – to Beirut and Kenya, to the children lost at sea seeking freedom, to the lives lost that so mattered in Ferguson and Baltimore and on, to the seemingly endless instances in our daily lives, on our campuses – even ours – when difference cloaks bigotry or just ignorance, when we fail to listen to the other, fail to give the respect they deserve and manage instead, perhaps without intent, to hurt those with whom we should be sharing one community.  How can this keep happening?

We sit here, in a city made global by waves of migration over many generations, a place whose heart beats to a rhythm of opportunity-seeking that knows no boundaries of land of origin, language, race, ethnicity, a gathering of peaceful peoples pursuing different faiths and common desires.  Yet we see also around us the scarring consequences of decade after decade, group after group, strangers to each other, enemies even within the same land, separated by an architecture of segregation, an economy of inequality, a politics of polarization, a dogma of intolerance.  We witness the loss of a new future, struck down.  And we wonder aloud, what we can do differently?

We can take seriously what we all know to be profoundly true, the diversity of our university and its home community with all its ties to heritages far and wide is the power we have – arguably the only power we have – to make a fairer, safer, more just, less violent, more peaceful future.  This is it, so what shall we do to act together in that power?

We shall answer the call of our students to rally in solidarity with other students facing racial harassment on campuses from Missouri to Ithaca and on, as they stand here echoing the courageous voices of the Black Organization of Students at Conklin Hall and the Minority Student Program at the Law School.

Join me as I join too, and do so, as they call us to do, with an eye toward looking too at ourselves, for we have the benefit of numbers here, the vibrancy of much diversity, but not the luxury of complacency. We must examine how hard it is, every day, for each of us, to move from the insularity of difference to the breadth of real conversations, when we live with the ghosts of a long past with an even longer reach, as I wrote about in August.  Can we do this together?

We need to, as the strategic plan study group on leveraging diversity asked us to, and as a new Commission on Diversity and Transformation, following their lead, and co-lead by Jerome Williams and Shirley Collado, will do going forward – scholars, activists, students, faculty, and staff will articulate what it means for us to be a place that values the freedom of expression and the responsibility of listening, so that we too can move forward to the heartbeat of opportunity and the inspiration of excellence built on the power of difference coming together.  If we are the one’s we’ve been waiting for, let’s not wait any longer.

My best in hope,

Nancy Cantor

Nancy Cantor is Chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark