Reflecting on Charlottesville…and FIT

I am something of an idealist when it comes to educational institutions. After all these years, I think of them still as the pathway to knowledge and reason, wisdom and understanding, and lives transformed, all for the better. And so I believe that those of us who have the privilege of living and working in an educational institution have a special obligation to protect, as best we can, our democracy and the free and open society we cherish. The malevolence, ignorance and egregious behavior recently on display in Charlottesville must be repudiated. That is not only the job of our leaders, it is our job as well. FIT is a remarkably diverse community. Our offices, corridors and classrooms are filled with people of every race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity– -not to mention geographic origin. Each one of us must be made welcome here. I can think of no time more urgent than now for us, as educators, educational administrators and students, to disavow the ugliness of Charlottesville by modelling civility, and by dedicating ourselves to our common humanity—to live and teach the values of brotherhood, tolerance and cross-cultural respect—and to honor at all times the spirit of our national motto: E pluribus unum—out of many, we are one. But this must be more than a response to a momentary event, because all too soon, we will be tested again. Our commitment must be constant and real and authentic—enough to transform our distress and outrage into the kind of dialogue and meaningful action that characterize the best of us—and the best of FIT.

The question is: how do we, as a community, do that genuinely. I have spoken frequently on this theme throughout the years, in particular emphasizing the importance of every day civility in our environment, not just as an ideal, but as actual individual behavior. Behavior that is owned and acknowledged. That is where it starts. That is why I am reaching out to you so early in the academic year. I can try to lay the groundwork by supporting programs and other services. But to approach this wisely in a determined and meaningful way, I need your ideas and suggestions—your engagement. Ours is a community rich in creativity and idealism and I believe that now is our opportunity, as an educational institution, to develop a plan that speaks to us as a community—a community that thrives on understanding, reciprocity, civility and inclusion. I have set up an email account so that you can share your thoughts and ideas and I look forward to hearing from you. Please write to me at civility@fitnyc.edu.

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