Mount Holyoke’s commitment to conversation, comradeship, and change.

July 11, 2016 at 11:33 AM

Dear Members of the Mount Holyoke Community,

This summer has brought so much tragedy to society and our screens that, as we find ourselves grieving one event, trying to make sense of the act and the loss, we are swept into another.  Some happen at a distance, while others happen here on US soil. Some are classified as acts of terrorism, and the others are, at root, also about fear. All strike close to home in a community such as ours at Mount Holyoke College, comprised of many races and ethnicities, religions, nationalities, gender identities, and political affiliations.

The senseless murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in recent days—within a day of each other and less than two years after that of Michael Brown—reminded us, if we needed reminding, that this happens every day and everywhere in the United States, and of the urgency with which we all must act to protect black lives and to address the structural racism that allows such violence. It reminded us, as does the journalist Gary Younge, that “justice is indivisible,” and that anything less than justice for all is privilege for some.

When five police officers—Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—were killed by a sniper in Dallas, it reminded us that more loss of life is not an answer, and our wanting justice for them and their families is in no way at odds with our wanting justice for all those killed by police.

This fall, Mount Holyoke’s Common Read is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel and Grau, 2015). We chose this book because we believe, as Toni Morrison says, that it is required reading. In assigning Coates’s book, we will create and embrace the opportunity to come together in difficult conversation about structural racism and white privilege, and to envisage ways in which we can act—as individuals and as a college—to change systems, policies, politics and communities, from gun control to twenty-first century segregation.

No words can allay the fear or the visceral pain caused by these crimes against humanity, and empathy is itself sometimes an expression of privilege in a world structured by such violence against black bodies. The Common Read, and the commitments of the College’s next strategic plan will provide an opportunity for us not just to have these conversations, but to act decisively to make Mount Holyoke and the worlds in which we all move a model of mutual respect, deep understanding, and committed comradeship. Because the time to stop counting and to act is overdue, and because we must start the change somewhere.

Sonya Stephens
Acting President, Mount Holyoke College


Sonya Stephens

Written by Sonya Stephens