From the Dean: The struggle for democracy for all

Dear SOE community,

On August 3, 1857, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Canandaigua, New York in which he stated:

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

American democracy did not begin in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was written and signed, nor in 1788 when the United States Constitution was ratified by the states or even in 1789 when George Washington took office at the first President. Instead, according to Harry Rubenstein of the American History Museum, our democracy did not begin until its ideals were put to the test on September 15, 1796 when “Washington published his farewell address, marking one of the first peaceful transfers of power in American history and cementing the country’s status as a stable, democratic state.”

As I write today, the recent events of last Wednesday are still visceral. I watched in disbelief as misinformation, disinformation, and pseudoscience emboldened an angry mob of rioters to storm the US Capitol in attempt to invalidate the will of the people and disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote. Like many, I was horrified and deeply disappointed by these events and their very real threat to our democracy.

I am also pained and outraged by the unacceptable difference in the response to the perpetrators with intentions for damage and insurrection, as compared to peaceful protesters for Black Lives Matter several months before. These discrepancies are yet another example of the reprehensible discrimination and antagonism Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) have endured for centuries. This is a failing of both our society and free government that these types of inequalities can continue largely unimpeded.

Following these events in the first week of 2021, I find myself reflective on the prior year – of struggles with racial, economic, health and other injustices in our nation and in our communities. Amidst the recent insurrection, we also find ourselves facing escalation of dual pandemics. As the COVID-19 positivity rate climbs in CNY, resultant unprecedented circumstances continue to impact us personally and professionally. Over the past 10 months, SOE faculty, staff, and students have dealt with deaths of family and friends, changing financial situations, trauma from the racial injustice in our society, and challenges in meeting school, work and family care obligations, and New York State has endeavored to navigate disruption to our healthcare, educational, and financial systems. In addition, the centuries-long white supremacy that is inextricably entwined in US history and has perpetuated a system of racial inequality with unearned privilege for some people and the systematic oppression of other individuals became increasingly intolerable. With gratitude to and in collaboration with the Faculty for Racial justice and Equity in Education (FREE), the SOE recommitted in word and action to anti-racist curriculum, pedagogy, and community commitment, including dialogue with Anneliese Singh and a revision to our Strategic Plan.

Just as I am proud of the long history of the SOE in taking a stand against injustice and leading efforts to dismantle systemic obstacles to equity, integrity, and accessibility, I am confident that we will continue this work. I urge each of you to individually and collectively recommit in word and action to preserving democratic principles, upholding equitable opportunities, and being educators who are (as FREE put it in a presentation to the SOE community in October 2020):

“genuinely committed to anti-racist pedagogy, who are continuing to learn through history and current events that their work must be open to criticism, adaptation, and examination.”

Walking, learning and growing with you,

Joanna Masingila Signature
Joanna O. Masingila, Dean