Race, Class and Educational OpportunityJanuary 19, 2015
The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. . . ‘The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.
-Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? 1967
Two articles in the Washington Post last Friday, January 16, point to the chronic challenge of poverty in the quest for equality and justice, a challenge that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. clearly understood. “Majority of U.S. Public School Students are in Poverty” read one headline in a story citing a report of the Southern Education Foundation that also reveals that 61% of D.C. Public School children live in poverty. “Young parents still more likely to leave D.C., tax data shows” read the other. Both stories are, implicitly, about social class and educational opportunity, with the latter story pointing to the quest for better schools as a major driver of middle class family migration to the suburbs.
Equality of educational opportunity is not just “the civil rights issue of our time” as leaders like President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have been fond of saying. Equality of educational opportunity has been a central issue since the earliest days of the Civil Rights Movement. The landmark Supreme Court Decision Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 declared racially segregated schools unconstitutional, but now 60 years later, racial segregation in public schools remains a significant fact of life for millions of children. The State of New York has the most segregated schools in the nation, but segregation remains an intractable problem in many if not most large urban school systems.
Economic segregation of poor children is the mirror image of racial segregation since poverty disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic children. It’s simply impossible to consider achieving racial justice without also achieving economic justice for all, and both economic and racial justice must start in the condition of schools.
While overt race discrimination is accepted as taboo in most of American society today, behavioral discrimination on the basis of social class shapes all kinds of institutions, from the kinds of stores available in different neighborhoods to the location of hospitals and healthcare providers to taxis to schools. Middle class parents want their children to sit alongside similarly upwardly mobile children in their classrooms, and upper class parents will pay just about any price to make sure that their kids don’t rub too many dirty elbows. (See The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden that illustrates why elite colleges and universities are likely to remain so.)
Social class discrimination certainly crosses boundaries of race and ethnicity, so it’s quite likely that parents of all races with the economic means to get their kids into better schools will do so. Yet, the fact remains that poverty also disproportionately impacts children of color in ways that limit educational attainment for many African American and Latino children.
School reformers have spent entirely too much time beating up on teachers and not nearly enough time and talent addressing the issues of poverty that block educational attainment for poor children. While claiming the rhetoric of “the civil rights issue of our time” they have not truly understood the fact that civil rights is not just an issue of race but truly about the ability of a human being to enjoy all of the benefits of a free society, which has a large dimension of economic justice.
When President Obama gives his State of the Union message tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 20, he will talk about initiatives to change the tax code to redistribute some wealth, to make more college opportunities possible, and other ideas to address economic injustices. Some opposition leaders are already criticizing the proposals as “class warfare,” but I wish President Obama would be even bolder. This nation needs a new War on Poverty, an unabashed and full-bore program to close the wealth gap.
Martin Luther King understood the critical relationship between poverty and racial injustice. He knew that true equality was impossible without economic justice as well as eradication of racism. President Lyndon Johnson also understood these issues and both Dr. King and President Johnson (notwithstanding the current controversy over the portrayal of their relationship in the movie Selma) worked together to address both social problems by forming an alliance that led to the War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other historic measures promoting justice for all.
May today’s leaders be even half so bold. We don’t need more wonkish tinkering on the edges of policies. We need a much greater measure of undaunted courage and conviction in the absolute necessity of pursuing policies for economic and social justice for all. Those are the leadership qualities that we celebrate and yearn for today on the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
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Trinity Graduates and the Imperatives of JusticeJanuary 11, 2015
Congratulations, Trinity graduates in the Winter Class of 2015!
Even as we congratulate you and celebrate with you on this happy evening, I must also remind you that your diplomas come with large expectations not only for the work that you will do but, perhaps more importantly, for the leadership and influence you will bring to bear on the larger society. We live in times that yearn for moral clarity and courageous leadership. What will you do to satisfy that yearning?
Social justice imperatives demand the brains and bravery of Trinity graduates across the years. Consider the imperative of justice for all.
As graduates of a university founded 118 years ago to overcome the pernicious effects of educational discrimination against women — a university that today takes great pride in its magnificent diversity across all ages, races, beliefs, economic strata and personal characteristics — you inherit Trinity’s long and proud tradition of standing for justice.
At this moment in the United States, our society is experiencing a collective tearing open of the old wounds of racial injustice. Just like the embers of a campfire that flares up long after the tents were folded and packed away, the genteel fiction of a “post-racial” society has had its flimsy scrim go up in flames sparked by the still-smoldering hot coals of racism. What happened on the streets of Ferguson and Cleveland and Brooklyn and elsewhere, what happened in border towns where immigrant children were denied passage to safety and instead sent back to lives of violence and poverty, what happens in all of these places are not just random acts disconnected from history but acts that extend a long narrative of racial injustice.
This is a narrative of pain that is full of the courage and heroism of those who fought for justice, sacrificing even their lives so others could live free. But 150 years after the end of the Civil War, a somber anniversary the nation marks this year, we still feel the heat and pain of those bitter flames shooting up from the embers we thought were extinguished long ago. 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education repudiated segregation in schools, 50 years after Selma, after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act became the law of the land, the smoldering ashes of issues we thought were settled threaten to ignite new conflagrations, forcing communities to take cover when we really should be coming together.
We either react to history, or make history. What will you do, our newest Trinity graduates? Will you simply live in reaction to history, to the pain of the hot coals burning thru your souls? Or will you make history for future generations by going out and finding the biggest reservoirs of healing waters you can possibly harness to douse the fire, taking courageous actions for justice to heal the wounds, to bring communities together, to find the peace we yearn for?
Such a challenge demands truly selfless leadership, the kind of servant leadership I hope you have learned about here at Trinity, a kind of leadership our graduates have exemplified across a century. This is a moral leadership that focuses on the needs of others, that does not worry about your own comfort because servant leaders find comfort in healing others. When you spend all of your time fretting about your own rights and the hurts that have come your way, you run the risk of being narcissistic. But when you spend your time and talent advocating for justice for those who need it most, you are heroic.
May you always use your Trinity degrees in pursuit of justice, exercising the heroism of servant leadership.
Now, speaking of leadership, just last Friday the District of Columbia inaugurated a new mayor. Mayor Muriel Bowser is a young woman who heralds the rising generations of new leadership for our city and nation. We must work with our new mayor on the huge agenda for DC that translates into action for justice on issues such as the full enfranchisement of the citizens of the District of Columbia, the right to a great education for our children, relief of the conditions of poverty and violence that afflict too many parts of our city, and greater opportunities for our marginalized neighbors to join the workforce and participate in the great economic benefits that many others in the city enjoy.
Over the weekend, Meet the Press hailed D.C. as the only one of the 50 largest U.S. cities to have women leaders in the top positions — the mayor, the police chief, the chancellor of the schools. We need more women, and women and men of color in leadership positions in our city, state and nation. This week, as the new Congress takes office downtown, we know that our national legislature, with a composition that is 80% white and 80% male, does not reflect the national profile. In just a few decades, there will no longer be a white majority in our nation, and women have been the majority for quite some time. But getting women, getting African American and Latina citizens able and willing to run for public office, and getting elected to public office, continues to be a great challenge. In an interview recently, our own famous political alumna Nancy Pelosi commented that too many young women feel discouraged from running for office because they see the abuse that leaders must absorb every day.
Don’t be discouraged by the negative forces. There’s a lot of history still to be made. You must choose to use your Trinity education to write progressive new pages in human history. Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, we need a new generation of leaders with the moral strength to bend the arc of history even more toward justice. Don’t say that’s for someone else — those words are for you.
We seem to spend too much time these days mourning the loss of great leaders from the past. Just last week, we lost Senator Edward Brooke, the first African American elected to the United States Senate, only one of two African Americans to serve in the U.S. Senate in the entire 20th Century, and since then there have been only six more. A few days before Senator Brooke’s passing, we lost former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.
Now, graduates of a certain age are nodding at those names, and others are saying, who the heck are those ancient figures? We are reminded of the fickleness of time by the news that just this week, when Kanye West and Paul McCartney released a new song, a number of people asked on Twitter, “Who is this Paul McCartney… an unknown new artist?” And they were not kidding.
But if we do not know or remember the past, we will never be able to write a different history for the future. In 1984, Governor Cuomo gave a famous speech at the Democratic National Convention in which he set forth ideas that sound like the agenda for leadership for social justice even today:
“…a society as blessed as ours, the most affluent democracy in the world’s history, one that can spend trillions on instruments of destruction, ought to be able to help the middle class in its struggle, ought to be able to find work for all who can do it, room at the table, shelter for the homeless, care for the elderly and infirm, and hope for the destitute…a proper government should be: the idea of family, mutuality, the sharing of benefits and burdens for the good of all, feeling one another’s pain, sharing one another’s blessings — reasonably, honestly, fairly, without respect to race, or sex, or geography, or political affiliation.” (Mario Cuomo, 1984 Democratic National Convention Speech, from www.americanrhetoric.com)
30 years later, this still is the American agenda, and it is our agenda, we who are graduates of Trinity — not a political agenda but a justice agenda, a leadership challenge to do what we can to move this society forward in unity, justice and the peace we desire so much.
115 years ago, a courageous group of Sisters of Notre Dame and a few hardy young women first set foot on Trinity’s campus. The SNDs braved opposition from within the Church, doubt and poverty to establish Trinity College in 1897, and by November 1900, they were ready to welcome the first students. But those students arrived on a cold, rainy day to find their new campus under construction — mud, sawdust and hammering everywhere. So it is even today, Trinity is an unfinished work in progress, a great institution of higher learning that persists in the belief that this education can only be fulfilled in the good and great service our graduates extend to others throughout their lives.
You, our latest graduates this evening, you join that long line of Trinity alumnae and alumni across more than a century in carrying the light of Trinity as bearers of justice and peace to a world that needs both in abundance. By conferring degrees on you tonight, we honor the courage and commitment of our founders, those brave Sisters of Notre Dame who had the best idea that ever inflamed this campus, the idea of founding Trinity. You are the latest example of their bold inspiration, witness of the wisdom of their hard work and the dedication of those who followed them down through the years. You are the hope of Trinity for decades to come. As you take your diplomas forth from this graduation ceremony tonight, may you go with the strength, the light and the love of the Trinity through all the days of your lives.
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Je Suis CharlieJanuary 8, 2015
I’m sure I’m not the only American who never heard of the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo before yesterday. And now having had a chance to see some of the content in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragic events in Paris, I probably would not be a fan of that kind of satire on a daily basis. But this is the point: whether I or you or the Pope or the president or anyone else approves or disapproves of what is written, drawn or spoken by others, a civilized society must respect the fundamental premise of freedom to speak, to draw, to write, to lampoon, to criticize and satirize regardless of our individual tastes and preferences.
“Je suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie” is the chant and slogan that immediately arose yesterday around the world after the tragedy in Paris. The murders of ten journalists and two police officers yesterday in Paris was an act of terrorism triggered by the exercise of freedom of speech and expression by the journalists. Leaders in France and around the world quickly condemned the murders. Even Pope Francis, himself a target of some of the lampoon cartoons, called the murders “abhorrent” and in no way justifiable.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world turned out for vigils and demonstrations of solidarity with the dead journalists and in support for the fundamental idea of free speech. A clear hallmark of a free and just society is the belief that no individual is above the law or above scrutiny, that every idea needs and deserves a challenge, even religious beliefs. Challenge may make us very uncomfortable, may even make us outraged — but to prohibit the challenge denies the essence of our humanity, which is our intellectual ability to form and express the critical questions. A belief that is afraid of challenge, that censors or prohibits opposing points of view, cannot be a very strong faith. Terrorists who commit homicidal acts in the name of religion belie the true foundation of any legitimate religion. True faith is an expression of humanity, not savagery.
We academics must also stand in solidarity with the journalists all over the world who dare to express opinions about the mundane and the mighty. Higher education cannot exist in the absence of freedom; the right to freedom of thought, expression, speech and belief is the very oxygen of our lives as teachers, researchers and stewards of the bodies of knowledge across human intellectual history. We can argue and debate and proclaim and declaim with zest and passion and loud disagreement; but in the end, we must stand integrally joined as one, united in our firm commitment to defend what makes us human, the free exercise of our intellectual being, against the forces that would snuff out civilized life.Read comments (0) Add Comment
Big Ambitions for a Great New Year!January 1, 2015
New Year’s Day 2015 dawns over Trinity with a great sense of happy anticipation for the progress Trinity will make in the months ahead. Along the southwest side of the campus facing Franklin Street, the footprint of the new Academic Center has emerged with the rising foundation walls. In just another few months, the structural steel girders will frame the building and, by New Year’s Day 2016, we will see the facade of the new building, red roof and all! We plan to start classes in the new building in Fall 2016.
Watching the teamwork, talent, hard manual labor and sophisticated engineering and orchestration that go into construction of a new building is very instructive for our work together in the Trinity community in the months ahead. We have big plans, and need a lot of teamwork among very smart and dedicated colleagues to make those plans become a reality. We need the hard work and great talent of our faculty and staff, as well as the remarkable engagement of our students in so many ways. We count on our alumnae, trustees and benefactors to be part of the large and sophisticated team of directors and supporters helping to ensure the very best performance in all parts of our large enterprise.
2015 will be a year of planning the myriad opportunities the new building will open for our academic programs, such as:
- For the sciences, eight new laboratories will provide more modern, more technologically sophisticated space and instrumentation to build upon the tremendous success that our faculty scientists and students have achieved in recent years; the number of science majors is growing rapidly, and the new labs and nearby classrooms will make it much easier for Trinity to accommodate this growth;
- For Nursing and related programs,four new laboratories — including a state-of-the-art simulation lab! — will ensure that Trinity’s healthcare professionals learn their professions using the most modern techniques available; fields like Psychology and Counseling will also reap many benefits from the availability of simulation and interview spaces, and classrooms that will make it possible for many related disciplines to work in adjacencies;
- For all students and faculty the 22 new classrooms will provide more modern, functional space for teaching and learning along with commodious lounge and gathering spaces. Classes will certainly still take place in Main Hall and the Library, but the Academic Center will reduce the stress on Main, reduce the use of rooms that no longer work well for modern instruction, and give us a chance to do more renovation of Main’s classroom areas.
Even while 2015 will be a year of academic planning for the new building, we also will be preparing a new Middle States Self-Study for Trinity’s decennial accreditation review. We have so much good news to share through our self-study — and the Trinity community will have many chances to participate in the process in the months ahead!
2015 must also be a year when Trinity faculty and staff, students and alumnae/i find even more ways to bring the power of this great eduction to bear on the chronic unresolved challenges, injustices and conflicts of our society. We are not bystanders to history, our education requires that we be protagonists for good, for peace, for justice. We build and sustain Trinity and the structure of this physical campus not for its own glory, but rather, so that Trinity’s mission can thrive for generations to come. This mission is only fulfilled if our students and graduates use this education to create effective, long-lasting social change in the communities they lead and corporations where they work. Our history is full of examples of remarkable leaders — our future leaders are on campus now, and we must be sure that every student has the talent, habits of mind and heart, ethical grounding and large vision to be a great leader for the common good.
In particular, 2015 offers opportunities here in the District of Columbia, as well as on the national and international stages, for Trinity students and graduates to exert leadership:
- We welcome and congratulate Washington’s new Mayor Muriel Bowser and look forward to finding ways for Trinity students and graduates to work with her to improve our city;
- We have launched a project with D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and leaders on her team to examine ways in which the graduates of the D.C. Public Schools can do even better in college and careers; improving college performance, graduation and career success for DCPS grads at Trinity is a top priority in the year ahead because education is the most effective pathway from poverty to economic security, a goal that so many of our students from D.C. desire;
- We also continue to expand our programs in Early Childhood Education in partnership with DCPS as well as important community organizations such as Martha’s Table; at the same time, mindful that so many Trinity students are also parents, we continue to explore ways to support our student parents with on-campus services;
- We continue to welcome students who are Dreamers to Trinity, and we keep looking for ways to expand opportunities for Trinity students, faculty and staff to engage with the critical issues of immigration reform as a matter of social justice;
- We look to expand opportunities for students in International Affairs including more options for study abroad — helping more Trinity students to engage with people and issues around the globe is a major priority for our academic growth;
- With the 2016 presidential election season already revving its engines, we anticipate significant expansion of campus programs, student clubs and organizations around candidates, issues and the importance of political engagement;
- Finally, at the start of last semester we began the “Lessons of Ferguson” project to encourage academic engagement with issues of race and racism, the justice system, law enforcement, community organizing and related issues. Sadly, as 2014 drew to a close, rather than seeing some abatement of concern, the issues grew more acute around the country, along with more intense protests. In 2015, Trinity faculty and students will continue to engage with these issues that are so central to the idea of the “good society” and to achieving justice and peace.
Much work ahead, but we undertake these and so many other issues with a sense of joy in being together, pride in our work and gratitude for the privileges we experience each day through being part of the Trinity community.
Happy new year!
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The Christmas StoryDecember 23, 2014
The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 2: The Birth of Jesus
1* In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus* that the whole world should be enrolled.
2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
4 And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,
5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
6 While they were there, the time came for her to have her child,
7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son.* She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8* Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.
9 The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
10 The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11* For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.
12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
13And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
14* “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”Read comments (0) Add Comment