After Charlottesville: Finding a Path Forward

Dear Pomona College Community,

This weekend’s domestic terror in Charlottesville, Virginia, was tragic and deeply disturbing from the very human level of our having witnessed violence and loss of life.

UVA, much like our beloved Pomona, is both a symbol and center for the pursuit of knowledge and advancement of the human condition. For this reason, among many other terrible ones, the events of the past week hit particularly hard for many members of our community.

From its first moments, higher education in America has been at the heart of crucial debates about the boundaries of knowledge, and about justice and human worth. Like very few places on Earth, colleges such as Pomona commit to carry on their work in perpetuity, or as far as human vision can extend. At our best, we pull down barriers to truth and bring dignity to all. No human institution can claim perfection; yet our ideals call for something great and lasting.

The torches of this past weekend scorched the path of decency with fear and anger.

I'd like to remind you of another torch, one which is emblazoned upon our college seal: a torch of knowledge, light boldly facing the darkness and declaring "this way!" We are called to what is best in us. We must think. We must act—our values always call us to considered action. We must look for a path forward and also consider from whence we have come.

The shock of this moment is real – swastikas and hate slogans, and people who didn’t even feel they needed to hide behind hoods. The rupture of violence is real. My heart goes out to the University of Virginia, and to the many people who live in and around it. Charlottesville is a town nestled in the hills, a lived place of beauty and contradictions; but it was also imagined as an American Athens, an academic village that might be a beacon of truth. Its founder, President Thomas Jefferson, designed an institution that sought to reflect the highest human ideals, yet its beginnings were wrought in slavery. This reality did not escape him; indeed, it haunted him throughout his life.

It is all the more sobering that Charlottesville was the site of this bloody attack. We lost a peaceful protestor, needlessly sacrificed to hatred; we lost two police officers who fell, carrying out their duty to protect; none of them can be replaced. I can't help but mourn for them and send, to their beloved family and friends, mine and our community's solemn wishes of condolence. Bravery in the face of hatred is evocative of so many struggles past. It calls us all to truth, to honorable remembrance, to mourning.

The contradictions Jefferson knew – and that many of us know differently – remain, yet it is not only the past we inherit, nor is it only that past we have in our hands. We seek to create a community of engagement and learning that will leave a great legacy. Insatiable rigor, empathy, mutual respect, understanding, striving for what is best: these are our tools.

We at Pomona come from everywhere. Our histories are divergent; yet we all seek a path that speaks to human worth. We can’t forget: Our own symbol is the torch of knowledge, a symbol not of terror but discovery, a sign that we do not fear the bright light of day. We share that light. Let us make it burn brighter together.

Be well,
Gabi Starr