Justice requires more than words

Justice requires more than words

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By David Johns

Hold that Thought

No words, no official statements, no acts of contrition are sufficient in this moment of our history, because nothing can erase generations of pain and oppression. Nothing we can do will ever undo what has been done.

I am heartbroken by the violence of injustice that results in senseless death decimating families and dashing the hope of mothers who must bury their children.

And I am heartbroken by the violence that erupts when injustice persists and those crushed by its weight cry out, “enough.”

We pass through cycles, it seems, from complacency to consciousness to outrage to acceptance to complacency once again. I want to believe that at some point, in one of the passes through the cycle, we will break free and live more enlightened lives. However, I am afraid that this cycle is a slow spiral with occasional plateaus of improvement.

Perhaps our work is to hasten the movement of the cycle, speed it up and advance us more steadily toward a place of justice and being “one nation under God.”

Without a doubt, colleges and universities have contributed to inequity and injustice through the years, keeping certain groups at the top and limiting opportunity for others. Privileged faculty teaching the children of privilege has assured the continuation of class stratification.

The recent admissions scandals unveiled just how much privilege and legacy stay alive at the hands of an unscrupulous few--an entire shadow industry that profits on keeping the poor and less well connected from advancing.

However, while being far from perfect, our colleges are one of the few places left in society that intentionally bring together people from many backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and ideological perspectives to discuss, debate, and discover. We don’t always get it right, but the world would be poorer, more monolithic, and less understood without them. In fact, the difficult conversations we need to repair ruptured relations and to build a more just future, are conversations that our colleges could help facilitate--not lead, but facilitate.

Some, like Ferrum College, are leveling the playing field for minority students, those from economic disadvantage, and the women and men who are the first in their family to attend college. Rather than profit from meritocracy, we have launched generations of young people into the middle class and into lives of responsible citizenship.

Today, students at Ferrum College are nearly 50% minority, a much greater percentage than at many of the big brand universities. For decades, the College has provided opportunity when opportunity has been denied, and the lives of thousands of families have been changed for the better because of it. In a concrete and real way--not in empty promises or slogans--we live a motto that calls us to put the welfare of others before our own: “Not Self, But Others.”

No one would ever claim we have it figured out or that we are a community without blemish. We are evolving and certainly have our blind spots. And while we cannot erase the injustices that have befallen people of color, sexual minorities, children of economic need or educational disadvantage, or others who have been shut out and turned away, Ferrum College has been at the forefront of providing opportunity for anyone committed to working hard and for anyone committed to building a future with room enough for us all.

David L. Johns is President of Ferrum College, and can be reached at president@ferrum.edu.

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