Over the past 10+ weeks, we have witnessed the best of humanity as we have come together to fight an unseen enemy that has presented itself in the form of a pandemic. We have seen people on the front lines, whether in the hospitals or essential businesses, working together to help our neighbors through one of the most challenging periods of our lifetimes. And in the Whittier College Poet community, we have come together, learned how to teach and learn in new ways, and given up our personal dreams of traditional commencement celebrations, playing in athletic playoffs, or studying abroad in order to keep each other healthy and safe. I have been so proud of how our community has come together over the last several months. You have made me hopeful that when we look beyond our own selves, and have empathy for others, the world will be a better place.
But I am heartbroken today. Like many of you, I have watched with horror the videos of the tragic death of George Floyd while under the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. My heart aches for the Floyd family, as it does for the families of the many others who have died or been harmed simply because of institutional racism and the naïve and dangerous biases of others. As a mother, wife, sister, and daughter, I also ache because of what I have seen and experienced in my own life and in the lives of those I love. But as an educator and leader, I am also in pain because of what I have heard from many of you about what you have experienced in your own lives.
The tragic events of the past few weeks bring home the structural inequities that are imbedded in the history of this country. It is no coincidence that the disparities we see in education, socio-economic status, law enforcement, and elsewhere, are also imbedded in the disproportionate effect of the Coronavirus on our communities of color. What we are witnessing is evidence of what is lost when we fail to treat each other with empathy, dignity, and respect. This is unacceptable. We must do better.
I am often asked why I have asked the Whittier College community to embrace the vision of equity and inclusion. It is because I believe that education is a fundamental human right and an equalizing catalyst that fuels the future. Whittier College has always been a place that focused on access to education as a catalyst for change. In the spirit of our namesake, John Greenleaf Whittier, a Quaker-Abolitionist-Poet, we must continue the hard work of creating change by producing empathic leaders for our local and global community.
During these tough times, please know that I am thinking of all of you. Be safe, be strong, and let’s get back to the hard work of changing the world into the place we want it to be.
Linda S. Oubré, Ed.D., M.B.A.
President and Professor of Business Administration