Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

Thanks to those of you who shared critiques of the Sept. 6 forum, “Conscience, Courage, Community: Bucknell Responds to Injustice Today.”  I can understand why some people felt that this event—and the university in general—does not adequately address issues of diversity and injustice. I’ve been here for many years, and I’ve felt that way, too.

The forum was organized by an ad-hoc group of staff, faculty and students. While we did not fully agree about how to proceed, we agreed that we did not want the semester to commence as if the violence that happened over the summer was not worthy of university attention. We wanted there to be some kind of institutional acknowledgement of all what had happened in our country and around the world. One event could not adequately address the complex intersectional factors that create and perpetuate injustice and violence. As a first step, we invited the campus to reflect on how violence and injustice affects us all. We sought to foreground student voices rather than focus on administration or faculty lecturing from the stage.

I can only speak for myself, but I left the Conscience, Courage, Community event feeling that President Bravman and Provost Altman modeled something we rarely see: people in top leadership positions yielding the podium and actively, reflectively listening to people in the audience.  When we asked folks to talk to each other in pairs or small groups, both the president and the provost moved to converse with students rather than talk to each other. During the open mic period, neither the president nor the provost rushed to reassure us that everything was all right, or tell us of ways they’re already dealing with the problems people were enumerating.  Instead, they listened to the ways in which things are not all right, as articulated powerfully and courageously by students from both the stage and the floor. For me, the listening presence of Bucknell’s top two administrators at a 90 minute event was a welcome departure from what too often can happen: a few words of outrage or reassurance and a short-lived promise to review institutional policies and practices.

When I got here in 1985, the university was barely acknowledging—and sometimes actively silencing—the challenges faced by many of us on campus.  There was no Women’s Resource Center, no Office of LGBTQ Resources, no Multicultural Student Services; there was limited support for international students. There was one black professor. Bucknell had yet to divest from South Africa. Institutional sexism, classism, homophobia, and racism went largely unchecked under opaque processes for hiring, promotion and tenure, homogenizing the kind of faculty we hired and retained. All of this, and more problems too numerous to mention here, compelled groups of students, faculty and staff to work together for change. The progress has been slow, uneven, frustrating. At the same time, the struggle helped forge community and created better standards for institutional and personal behavior.

I do not mean to say that we should be happy with the status quo. We still have a lot of work to do to make Bucknell a place where all kinds of people can thrive. We absolutely DO need our university leaders to publicly address discrimination and privilege that perpetuates bias. But I also know that too often those with institutional power do not have in-depth knowledge of what life is like for people who’ve traditionally been excluded from those institutions. White skin privilege, patriarchal networks, class privilege, etc. can insulate people in leadership positions from some of the harder realities facing those who struggle. That’s why listening is imperative. As one professor at the forum noted, really hearing what someone is saying and sitting with itespecially if what is being communicated is distressing—is a kind of action. It can’t be the only action we engage in. But it cannot be a step we skip. When those with institutional power rush to “fix” things without listening and reflecting, the fix is often off the mark, and the power dynamics at the root of injustice are usually left intact.

What ails this university ails much of our country—our current crises are the logical outcome of our long-term failure to deal with systemic discrimination. I value the engagement I witnessed at the forum, both the speaking and the listening.

And I know we need to do more than just talk and listen.  I am open to strategizing action on these issues; I can be reached at the Writing Center.

Respectfully,

Margaret “Peg” Cronin

570-577-3426

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