Chancellor Cantor’s Invited Remarks at the Rally in Solidarity with the University of Missouri
I want mainly today to lend my strongest possible support for the voices of the students here– from all corners of our multi-voiced community – spoken against a landscape of awakening in higher education of responsibility – responsibility to live up to our best selves, in action not just in presumed values and institutional rhetoric, to look at ourselves and to look beyond ourselves – as individuals (with others in our university community), as a community joined in solidarity and collaboration with this great city of Newark (a place of perseverance, a place of many dashed hopes, and yet one of so many opportunities to be realized), and as a part of a national and institutional landscape (from Missouri to Cape Town, South Africa) that is asking, even demanding, that higher education do its full and rightful part to make social change.
When we look at ourselves and beyond ourselves, when we listen to ourselves and beyond ourselves, we see many touchpoints of inspiration here – the faces and voices of the BOS at this very Conklin Hall in 1969 (as we have just heard powerfully again) and in the Law School’s minority student program on the heels of the civil rebellion in Newark; the hurt and pain of students at the University of Missouri, intertwining both geographically and symbolically with the tragedy of Ferguson, Missouri not far from that campus; the reverberating striving of our DREAMers heard today against a discouragingly familiar chant to close the gates, build the walls, make our institutions and our communities off limits to the very waves of migration that have always made us stronger, followed by deeply hurtful pronouncements that smear whole communities of peaceful people of faith. We, on the other hand, must stand for opportunity not against it – that is what education is about, is it not?
And that stand – for opportunity not against it – comes with many responsibilities, not the least of which is an honest recognition of how hard it is for all of us and any of us to move from the insularity of our differences to the solidarity of our interdependence. When we look at ourselves and look beyond ourselves we see a paradox here at RU-N and in Newark, N.J., and increasingly everywhere we look. We see the remarkable complexity of our diversity, of our identities, of our experiences – this is not a one or the other landscape, not a mythical two-toned world – and yet paradoxically there is a stark simplicity to see here too – a simplicity that reflects how it hurts, how deep it scars, when one – no matter which identity or identities are at stake – is reduced to otherness. That I believe is a, if not the, fundamental challenge for us all, and a fundamental opportunity to make a difference by recognizing how often we reduce difference to otherness – excruciatingly simplifying and making powerless the complexity and vibrancy of diversity.
Today, if we do one thing as a university and a community willing to honestly reflect and to educate ourselves and to prepare to change– let’s start by trying not to reduce others to otherness; let’s acknowledge how prone we all are to that arrogance, that insularity, that comfort zone of self and sameness. And then, as we work in the days and months ahead – in all our spaces and across our spaces, in a university-wide commission on Diversity and Transformation, in newly designed inter-cultural spaces and in spaces newly carved out for the enactment of culture and faith and identity of many faces and forms and voices – please let’s do this job of education and of civic life always keeping at the center of our minds and hearts the cry of a soul made to feel alone and excluded – made into the other, and the dreams, by contrast, of one who is made to feel heard, to feel respected, made to feel as if their dream is our dream too. Yes, there are many specific things that we will do in the coming months to follow on this day and on the goals of our strategic plan – programs we will form, spaces we will build, partnerships we will forge. But at its core, what I want to call upon us to do, as you all have today, is at once to embrace all our complexity and to banish the facile chill of otherness. Then we can move on in a deep not superficial togetherness – we are, after all, the ones we’ve been waiting for – and we are in it together.