More than three weeks after the deadly weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Sian Leah Beilock addressed the attacks for a second time in an email sent to the Barnard community on Tuesday.
The violent protests and deadly terror attack occurred during the weekend of Aug. 11 when white supremacists and counter protesters clashed at a white nationalist rally. In addition to the injury of 30 people, a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one. Beilock, who began serving as Barnard’s eighth president on July 1, first responded in a joint email with Provost Linda Bell that was sent to students and faculty on Aug. 14.
The email described the events in Charlottesville as defying “reason or explanation,” but failed to condemn the acts as instances of “white supremacy.”
“Our functioning as a civil society depends on free expression and open debate,” Beilock and Bell said in the email. “We deplore the acts that cost three lives and many injuries, and we abhor the bigotry that fueled them.”
Following the email, a collection of student groups—including Divest Barnard for a Just Transition, Undocumented Student Initiative, Student-Worker Solidarity, Columbia University Apartheid Divest, CU/BC Branch of the International Socialist Organization, and No Red Tape—sent an open letter to Beilock criticizing the strength of her statement.
The letter—which also criticizes past moments in Beilock’s career at the University of Chicago and lists the issues they would like her to prioritize in the future—called the joint statement with Bell “troubling.”
“You fail to honestly name, address, and condemn the white supremacist ideology that led to the murder of one individual and the injuring of 19 others,” the open letter states. “You fail to explicitly defend the right of students of color to study and live free of all forms of racism. You fail to state what you will do, in the face of ongoing political crisis, to stand for racial justice.”
In her email to students, sent on Tuesday, Beilock responded to concerns related to the earlier joint statement, but did not directly address the criticism received.
“I want to take a moment to revisit the deeply disturbing recent events in Charlottesville that resulted in violence and death and left many in our community and across the nation fearful,” Beilock said in the email. “We must unequivocally reject white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism and related violence, bigotry and intimidation.”
In the email, Beilock identifies the new Council on Diversity and Inclusion as a college-led effort to address issues of inclusion, diversity, and equity on campus.
Read the full text of Tuesday’s email below:
Dear Barnard Community —
I am pleased to welcome you back to campus for the start of the 2017-18 academic year. I hope you had an enjoyable and productive summer, and I look forward to starting off the fall semester together.
Since this is my first academic year at Barnard, I am only beginning to experience what is so special about this campus community. I know you have questions for me. I have questions for you too. With that in mind, I want to take time this semester to learn as much as I can about Barnard. I have been engaged in a listening tour of sorts, both on campus and off, so that I can hear from the community and exchange ideas. This is an exciting and ongoing process and it’s the best way I can think of to build my sense of the College in order to plan with you for the future.
I’m grateful to those of you I’ve met already for welcoming me with warmth and enthusiasm. I look forward to learning more from faculty, staff, students, families and alumnae throughout this academic year. In turn, I have the honor of welcoming returning students back to Barnard—and greeting the wonderful Class of 2021 and new transfers, with whom I will always share the bond that comes from beginning this adventure together.
As I think about our campus in a national and global context, I want to take a moment to revisit the deeply disturbing recent events in Charlottesville that resulted in violence and death and left many in our community and across the nation fearful. We must unequivocally reject white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism and related violence, bigotry and intimidation. We work to create space for open dialogue and understanding because it is vital to our scholarship and learning. Everyone should be able to work, think and develop to their fullest potential in a community free of fear, hate and violence. There is work yet to be done. The new Council on Diversity and Inclusion is one group that can help us focus our efforts. I look forward to coming together with faculty, students, staff and alumnae to listen to one another and find active and constructive ways to enhance the College’s diversity and inclusion work and to stand together against hate.
This year, we will need to come together around many important issues that affect our community. For example, we await word from Washington, DC concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows eligible undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country as children an opportunity to legally live, work and study here. Barnard, along with many other colleges and universities (https://www.pomona.edu/news/2016/11/21-college-university-presidents-call-us-uphold-and-continue-daca), has advocated strongly for the continuation of this important program. I am committed to advocating for the well-being of our community members and will continue to do everything possible to help them safely flourish.
Later this week you will hear from Provost Linda Bell and COO Robert Goldberg with an update on several Barnard initiatives and activities. These range from our divestment progress, our close monitoring of potential public policy changes, and ongoing work on diversity and inclusion, to the implementation of our first contingent faculty union contract and the growing success of our Summer Research Institute. They will also fill you in on the latest Milstein Center news.
And, as a reminder, I do hope to see you all at Convocation on Tuesday, September 12, at 4:30 p.m. in Riverside Church. We are honored and proud that one of our own, Stanford University Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck ’67—who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences—will deliver the keynote address. Everyone is invited to attend.
Again, it is truly great to be here, and I look forward to a successful year ahead.
Sian Leah Beilock