President Alexander’s address to the community

Posted by Claire Crittendon – Co-Editor-in-Chief

On June 1, members of the Lasell community received the following email, “A Statement from Lasell University President Michael B. Alexander,” from Henry Pugh of behalf of President Michael Alexander, regarding the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests.

“Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear Member of the Lasell Community,

Once again we find our nation embroiled in turmoil by the senseless killing of a Black man by those who are pledged to serve and protect us. The death of George Floyd – as graphic and horrible as it is – would be enough to cause us to shout and protest its injustice, and the underlying inequities in our society that are at its foundation. 

Over these last few months, the extreme disruption of the lives of people across the planet has magnified those inequities.  The corona virus has caused more than 365,000 deaths worldwide and more than 100,000 in the United States; 40 million people in our country have lost their jobs in just a few weeks, and millions more fear for their health and their economic well-being. But the effects of the virus have not been equally distributed.  COVID-19 has disproportionately infected and caused the deaths of people of color, people of lesser means, people without health insurance, people with cognitive issues, and the elderly.  In other words, those already marginalized in our society have felt the brunt of the pandemic in extreme proportion.

It is no wonder that our streets are aflame. At a time when we should be coming together to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us, we remain a nation divided.  Leaders who should be uniting us, providing both solace and a vision of a more perfect union on the other side of this crisis, are instead sowing the seeds of enmity, allowing us to approach the precipice of sustained social upheaval.

This moment begs us not only to reflect on broader societal inequalities, but also to examine the ways in which inequalities exist within our own community. Lasell University is not immune to these problems. The move to remote learning this spring, while overall as successful as one might hope for, nevertheless exposed inequities that exist within higher education, and therefore within Lasell.  Some students did not have the kind of computers that would make remote learning easy; even more could not afford Internet or Wi-Fi access; others were forced to attend online classes from noisy homes crowded with family members who were also confined to the house.  We worked hard to help these students, but we would be disingenuous not to recognize that they started from behind and had to overcome more obstacles to succeed.  It is a testament to their fortitude that so many did complete the semester successfully. At Lasell, we are determined to employ our resources and creativity to make sure every student has access to the modern tools of learning, no matter where they are.

Another example is the cost of course materials. Students with fewer resources have long struggled to pay the high price of textbooks. They would often resort to buying older used editions, or sharing with others, or taking reserve copies out of the library.  These strategies put them at a disadvantage relative to students who could afford the books.  When the virus struck and sent students home, these students no longer had access to books on reserve in the library, making it even more difficult for them to complete their studies.  For this reason, we are strongly advocating for the transition to open educational resources (OER) that would be available to all students through Canvas without additional cost.

Both of these problems – access to technology and the cost of course materials – tend to affect disproportionately students of color. These may seem trivial matters relative to the death of George Floyd and the ensuing violence in our cities.  I think they are related, for what better way do we have to overcome the ills of our society and provide an opportunity for all to share in the fruits of our nation’s wealth and good fortune than to provide a complete and quality education for people the world over.

I am old enough to have lived through previous episodes of social upheaval in our country.  I have seen us endure periods when hope was in short supply, and then adjust as a people to pass progressive legislation, make meaningful (though incomplete) progress, and strengthen our social fabric. We can do it again. Here are some of the things we need to do.

  • Provide a quality education to all people, irrespective of their economic circumstances, race, religion, identity, or where they were born.  Everyone deserves the opportunity to improve their lives for themselves and for their children. Education is the surest path to that opportunity.  It first requires the collective will to fix our public schools; we know how, but we have not been willing to make it a national priority. It then requires us to reduce the cost of postsecondary education so everyone who wants it can pursue a higher education or vocational training.
  • Provide healthcare to everyone in our country, no matter who they are.  It is a disgrace that the richest country on earth allows tens of millions of its inhabitants (many of them children) to exist without health insurance or access to adequate care.
  • Reduce the extreme inequities in income and wealth that have developed in our country over the last 50 years. This problem is at the root of many of our social ills, including disproportionate access to education and healthcare.
  • Prepare for the oncoming tsunami of aging Americans who will need housing, healthcare, and a life worth living.  Whole societies in other parts of the world are built around respect and care for elders.  We are woefully unprepared for the huge number of low- and middle-income seniors who will live well into their 80’s and 90’s.  A lack of resources allocated to this problem will once again weigh most heavily on people of color and the economically disadvantaged.
  • Protect our planet. We have seen how unprepared we were to handle a crisis of global proportions in the attack of the coronavirus. Worldwide droughts in areas on which we depend for food, rising sea levels that flood our coastal cities, and changes in our atmosphere will tax our resilience and resolve even more, if we do not take immediate steps to mitigate them.

What do all these problems have in common?  They all exacerbate the lagging living standards of those who start with less, of those who are reviled for their beliefs, of those attacked for whom they love, of those who are born in one part of the world or another, or those whose skin happens to have a darker hue.

We must expunge these disparities from our society and from our institutions.  Until then, we can expect that the criminal malfeasance of a police officer in one city will set off paroxysms of outrage and violence across the nation, rather than be perceived as the despicable act of one person.

One measure of justice is how well a society treats its most vulnerable members. The vile death of George Floyd, and the upheaval of the last few days and the last few months, tells us that, as far as we have come, we still have a long ways to go to achieve justice for all.

Michael B. Alexander”

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