News, Opinion

An open letter to the Yale-NUS community

 

17 June 2020

 

Dear students,

This seems like a good moment to reach out to you. We have not seen you for months. We miss you. Recent acts of racism, violence and injustice have convulsed the US and reverberated around the world. This is on top of all that has happened: coronavirus, economic upheaval, the shuttering of our campus, businesses, and social interactions in Singapore and everywhere. Commencement was virtual, your summer plans altered. We are proud of your resilience, tenacity, and generosity. Every aspect of our lives has changed, for now and probably a good long while. All these have a profound effect on us as individuals and a community.

So we want to say something. We are mindful that these sorts of statements can seem anodyne, toothless, self-serving or worse. But they don’t have to be. As your faculty we really can’t be silent.

We are in Singapore, not the US. Who are we to condemn events that occur 10,000 miles away? Suffering happens every day, in all parts of the world. Yet our mission statement reads “in Asia, for the World.” And, after all, one of our founding institutions is American, many of our faculty are from or were educated in the US, and many of our students call the US home or spend significant time there. In short, this is a global issue and we are a global college. It is time for collective action.

So we write in support of our students, staff, colleagues, families, and each other, as President Tan Tai Yong and Dean of Students Dave Stanfield have eloquently done. We write in sorrow, anger, frustration, hope. We write in solidarity with those who are marginalized within and outside our community. We mourn for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and so many others who died because of systemic injustice. We write to say that Black Lives Matter and that we condemn anti-blackness and racism in all its forms, both on our campus and around the world. To our Black students and all those who feel left out: we want you to find a home here and flourish. It is not enough to simply make statements: we must actively engage in anti-racist practice.

We also write to affirm our core values as an institution: free exchange of ideas, pluralism, and respect for diversity.

Very often these are just empty slogans. What community does not want to embody them? But they are good ones to think about and strive towards.

Higher education aims to liberate, but it can also perpetuate forces of exclusion: systemic racism, economic inequality, entrenched hierarchies. Many of us became educators because we want to lift our societies up and confront these problems. We believe that diversity comes from different and original perspectives, and through these perspectives, human knowledge will grow, and hopefully the world can improve. We believe that inclusion means actively understanding and redressing the historically unjust silencing of marginalized groups.

Our students, staff, and faculty come from at least 70 countries. Our curriculum (though not perfect) encompasses a broad swath of human knowledge, from many (though not all) corners of the world. In conversation with you we are working to expand it even more. Two years ago, the Centre for Teaching and Learning published a guide on diversity and inclusion in teaching. This year the faculty voted to adopt a set of recommended practices to recruit a diverse faculty. We have dedicated staff in the Dean of Students Office who do the good work of intercultural education, as do the Student Government, CAPE, ComPact, The G Spot, YAS, YNDUS and many other groups across our campus.

And each day, in your seminars and suites, in the dining hall and hallways, you perform acts of goodness, quietly and sincerely, that bring our community closer together.

So we’re not starting from zero, but there is always more to be done.

One of the best things we do as a community is to gather around a table to talk and listen. We firmly believe that this is a good way to learn. This is, after all, the essence of the liberal arts: to gather around and probe—together—the fundamental problems of the human condition and the world.

Therefore, in the months ahead, we plan to convene a series of conversations around racism, injustice, inequality, wherever they may exist. We have done these before, but more must be done. What form these conversations take, how often—we don’t know yet. We’re working on it. We know it is not your job to educate us. Nonetheless, we want to hear from you. We want your help. For now you can write to any of the faculty you feel close to, including Brian McAdoo (brian.mcadoo@yale-nus.edu.sg), Robin Zheng (robin.zheng@yale-nus.edu.sg), the incoming co-chairs of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, or the outgoing chair Catherine Sanger (catherine.sanger@yale-nus.edu.sg). Your voice matters. Join us.

We believe in the transformative power of words to shape our actions, and actions to shape social change. Tackling injustice and racism cannot come from only the top or the bottom. We all have our finite perspectives, but together we can see and know more. That’s why transformation has to happen from all sides, from all angles, in every molecule of the community. We don’t have all the answers. None of us do. But together, we can try. We are a community of learning. We learn. We improve. We strive.

 

Onwards,

Members of the College Faculty

 

 

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