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A Letter from the President on the Capitol Riot

A Letter from the President on the Capitol Riot

Dear Members of the College Community,

There are no words to describe what the world watched unfold on Wednesday, January 6, as thousands of emotionally charged insurrectionists ascended to the United States Capitol to interfere with the certification of the electoral college votes. We stared in horror as windows were broken, doors were smashed, a woman was shot, and violence reigned as the throng of marauders overcame Capitol police to breach and desecrate one of the most iconic buildings in the world, a symbol of democracy.

While these actions are shocking, they are not surprising. They are the result of inflammatory rhetoric spewed venomously over the past four years; the result of a blind eye in the presence of violence, intolerance, and prejudice. Silence, in the face of injustice, signals consent. Equivocation, when decisiveness is demanded, engenders doubt. The persistent confounding of the truth compromises faith in people and institutions, established to serve and promote the common good.

Some observers say, “this is not who we are,” but, unfortunately, it is who we are at this time in our history. We are a nation divided by different world visions and core values. While we truly believed we were a people united, in fact, smoldering differences simmered beneath the surface, waiting for the right moment to spew the accumulating venom.

Civil discourse and polite society dictate that certain terms, expressions, perspectives, ideologies are unacceptable. However, when a leader, by his own behavior, gives permission to speak the unspeakable, to behave unacceptably, to spout violent rhetoric, what is buried within and among us erupts into the light. There are those individuals who have revealed themselves to be white nationalists, racists, belittlers of the vulnerable, and perpetrators of violence. Hostilities and attitudes long dormant, but ever present, are commonplace and on parade in today’s America. Side-by-side these brothers and sisters live with another America that values respect, justice, inclusiveness, and non-violence; another America that insists that people, all people, are made in the image and likeness of God and have an innate, unassailable right to their full human dignity. Obviously, there are not just two groups, each at the extremes, but many groups that fall on various places along the spectrum.

At Chestnut Hill College, we value relationships, just and inclusive relationships. In all of our pursuits, curricular and co-curricular, we seek truth in its many manifestations, goodness in its various expressions, and beauty in its endless forms. Truth, beauty, goodness, the very essence of the Divine Mystery Who is, in every instance, Unconditional Love. In God there is no darkness, there is no hate, there is no exclusion, there is no violence — for Love eschews these things. At this College, we believe and we teach that the journey of life offers each person the opportunity to be transformed into truth, beauty, and goodness, into the true image of God each one is. Over a lifetime, every person is offered the opportunity to be transfigured by Love into Love.

In seeking truth, at this College, we rely on the sources of truth — authentic human experience, data, the results of research, and empirical evidence. In savoring goodness, we reflect upon the integrity and kindness of those who surround us with generous expressions of selflessness. In beholding beauty, we allow the intricacies of Mother Earth, of the Cosmos, of other people to enter into our memories to become the images that invite us to contemplation. Through a study of the liberal arts and the many major disciplines comprising the educational experience at Chestnut Hill College, students are introduced to the riches of the human mind and spirit as these find voice in the arts, sciences, and professions. We assimilate what inspires us, we imitate what attracts us, we act on what compels us. We stand with the vulnerable, the poor, the disenfranchised, the outcast. We stand for truth, integrity, kindness, freedom, justice, inclusiveness, human dignity, “one nation under God.” We are heartbroken by the behavior exhibited last Wednesday.

We should especially remark on the discrepancy between the treatment of the Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer and the treatment of the insurrectionists on Wednesday. When it was known for weeks that a protest was planned and the escalating rhetoric was pointing to potential violence, the absence of the National Guard and police in riot gear to protect the Capitol is inexplicable. The lack of police preparedness and the ensuing melee stands in stark contrast to the well prepared and disproportionate number of armed officers in tactical gear at the Black Lives Matter marches.

The difference in the treatment of the Black Lives Matter protesters and those who marched on Wednesday was stark. There were few instances of police brutalizing protesters and ostensibly very few arrests, quite a contrast to what occurs at Black Lives Matter protests. No one wants to see anyone injured, that is not the point, but the dissimilarity between the two responses is gut wrenching. We, as a nation, need to think seriously and deeply about our response to the violence we witnessed Wednesday versus what we witness on a regular basis when Black people are denied their right to equal protection under the law or to protest. What are the attitudes and presuppositions that underlie the harsh responses of some in the law enforcement community and how do we need to address them? To all of our Black sisters and brothers who are sickened, angry, and offended by this disparity, we say honestly that we are insightfully aware of the conflicting application of justice we witnessed on Wednesday and we, too, are appalled.

Moving forward, let us pray for healing and let us commit to do the work necessary to understand and respect one another. We pray for the families and friends of Ashli Babbit, Officer Brian D. Sicknick, and others who lost their lives or were injured as a result of the assault on the Capitol. The work of forgiveness and reconciliation is difficult, long, and painful, but it is a task to which we must dedicate ourselves.

As we reflect on the lessons to be learned from one of the saddest days in the history of the United States, let us open our hearts to the possibility that, out of the wreckage, a new spirit will be born, a fresh energy will emerge, and an ardent desire to re-form that “more perfect union” will triumph.

God bless and keep you, each and all,

Sister Carol Jean Vale, SSJ, Ph.D.

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