There is nothing quite like fall at the University. The leaves are brilliant in hues of reds, oranges and yellows, cloaking the Rotunda like an expensive garment. There is a bite in the air and walking around Grounds — even now — feels special somehow.
Getting to witness this season of change is just one of the many reasons I love this place. But, this is a rather superficial reason, and the leaves covering our Grounds do nothing to cover its history. Ignoring the University’s legacy is a privilege and a choice — a choice that I, for one, am not willing to make.
Instead, I choose to write about the things I have learned about our University’s past, and to take responsibility for the role I play in its present. It is easy to see from the comments I received on my last column that quite a few people — particularly white men — did not like what I had to say. At all. We are all entitled to our own opinions — though they are shaped by our experiences — and I recognize that perhaps I am more ready for change than others.
In these comments, I was asked several times why I chose to enroll at the University — Thomas Jefferson’s University — if I hated Jefferson, the school he founded and all he stood for so much. I would like to clarify now, in case anyone who stumbles across my columns is confused — I love the University, and I am proud to go here.
I am proud of the choices so many students have made to protect themselves and others from coronavirus. I am proud of the members of our University who continue to organize and educate the community, though it should not be our job nor our burden to do so.
Because I am proud of our community and because I love this University, I will continue to make the choice to educate myself on the marks our University has made on history — whether they are amazing achievements or unbelievable injustices. This is precisely why I write about the University’s legacy and condemn the damage the University has done while celebrating the contributions it continues to make. This is why I will keep writing what is true to me and what I believe needs to be said.
I want the University to be the best it can be, and unfortunately, that means identifying its flaws along with its successes. I have heard many times that berating the past and blaming people like Jefferson for his decisions will do no good. I have been told that my words are senseless and that I should stop whining and focus on the present. But this argument fails to accept that the current reality of the University experience — my University experience — is a manifestation of the University’s deeply rooted systemic racism.
I would never say that the University is a horrible place, or that I absolutely hate being here. Those that pulled that message from my last column misinterpreted my words. However, I do strongly believe that this institution must continue to work hard to untangle itself from the web of white supremacy its founders wove.
There is this really great phrase I learned from my Christian fellowship, Chi Alpha, called “care-fronting.” It means to confront someone — or in this case, something — out of love and genuine interest in their success and wellbeing. To care-front is not to berate, whine or destroy without purpose — it is to call out what is not right with the intentions of healing, rebuilding and moving forward to something better.
I am not at all aiming to make excuses for my last column or to appease those who hated it. I stand by what I wrote and would not have published it if I did not believe my words needed to be heard.
But, I did want to use this column — probably my last of what has been a whirlwind “short” semester — to make it explicitly clear that I take my decision to enroll here very seriously. I refuse to graduate without at least trying to make Grounds a better, more welcoming space for those who come here after me.
It is up to us to care-front the place we call our home away from home. It is up to us — as members of the University community — to know where we have come from, where we are now and where we should head in the future.
We have all heard many times that this University is striving to be both “great and good.” But I would like to ask — is it possible to achieve this if students, as well as administrators, do not take the responsibility to acknowledge and learn from the University’s shortcomings, to care-front, seriously?
Personally, I believe the answer to that question is a resounding no. And because I want us to keep reaching for goodness and greatness, I accept this responsibility — and my role in shaping our University’s future — with open arms.
I am happy here. I know I belong here. However, I know that “here” can be better. And because I have so much love for this University, I will keep care-fronting it and reaching for a brighter, more inclusive future where fall on Grounds is even more brilliant than it is right now.
Emma Keller is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.