By Funmi Anifowoshe
Dear Professor David Lewis Schaefer,
I am writing this letter to you in response to your recent article in the National Review. I respect and value your position as an educator at the College of the Holy Cross. However, your recent article reflects divisive and hateful rhetoric, and it was rife with factual inaccuracies. As scholars, we are taught to strive for more than mediocre journalism (the well-intended Crusader article is just that), to strive for more than arguments unsubstantiated by impartial or scholarly sources.
In the same way that the goal of your article was to draw attention to the injustice of sitting, or kneeling, during the National Anthem, the goal of the demonstration was to draw attention to the injustices perpetrated against people of color on this campus and in our greater society. Now, not to totally underscore the points you raised, but one issue calls attention to a figurative symbol, while the other calls attention to the literal attack on lives and liberty.
I have read your article several times, each time attempting to read from a different perspective and understand your viewpoint. Alas, I failed, and I can neither sympathize nor empathize with any of the opinions expressed in your article. However, you have every right to express your personal beliefs and opinions, as do I. As it is my right, I choose to write this letter to emphatically dispute your most polarizing statements.
To be clear, Professor, the core purpose of the demonstration was not to protest the National Anthem, but if it was, and if students chose to pursue sitting as an avenue of protest, it would be right and it would be just.
You wrote that students should not be protesting issues related to Black Lives Matter because “by far the greatest threat to black lives in contemporary America comes not from the police, but from African-American gang members and other criminals against whom the law-abiding African-American population, more than any other segment of the American people, desperately needs increased, not reduced, police protection.” My rebuttal is that the disparate application of the law within African-American communities, through the use of excessive policing, racial profiling, and mass incarceration, are the greatest threat to many African-Americans. However, none of this is relevant to the issue at hand. Mentioning crime rates and violence within African-American communities does nothing to address the issue of police brutality and acts solely as a detracting claim.
You ponder how “the leaders of a distinguished academic institution allow themselves to be gulled into celebrating public disrespect for America’s national anthem, for our flag, and thus for ‘the republic for which it stands’?” What strikes me is your tone of disgust and condescension. You insinuate that the leaders of this respected institution should be ashamed of their actions. Yet, the purpose of a leader is to guide and to set an example. The College’s Mission Statement notes that “to participate in the life of Holy Cross is to accept an invitation to join in dialogue about basic human questions…what are our obligations to one another? What is our special responsibility to the world’s poor and powerless?” The leaders of this distinguished academic institution chose to truly model the Mission and to address what they felt were obligations to students of color. They chose to be driven to perform a civic duty by engaging in a demonstration, and in essence they are leading others to do the same. I invite you to follow their lead, and ask yourself these same questions. I implore you, Professor, to attend campus dialogues, engage with students of color on this campus, and engage with topics pertaining to police brutality and Black Lives Matter outside of academia. Should you do so, you may be able to understand what drove 130 people, students and college leaders alike, of different races and backgrounds to stage a sit-in demonstration on Sept. 24th.
You boldly state that “not long ago it was widely understood that the purpose of liberal-arts education in America was…to train thoughtful and loyal citizens, who would preserve our republic by maintaining and transmitting the principles on which our Constitution is based, and by setting aside private concerns for the public good when the latter required it.” The Constitution is frequently referred to as a living document. The Constitution of the United States of America was established “in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The demonstrations and protests surrounding police brutality and the increasing wave of deaths of minorities at the hands of the police embody the aims of the Constitution. A threat to justice for one group of people is a threat to justice for all. Domestic tranquility cannot be achieved if people of color regularly fear for their lives at the hands of the very people meant to protect them. Whether you agree or not, the public good demands that we speak up, we speak out, and that we do something.
You note that college graduates are expected to “ground their assessments of public policy on reason and the dispassionate consideration of facts, rather than transient ideological fashions or the quest for personal ‘acknowledgment.’” My response to you is that social justice is not a transient ideological fashion. Through your later corrections to your article, it is clear that you did not dispassionately consider the facts. Given that there is no public policy hindering peaceful demonstration, protest, or freedom of expression, your article and your beliefs are contradictory to the very ideal you aim to instill in your students and graduates.
Finally, in an attempt to substantiate your view, you point out that as The Honorable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed, “refusing to stand for the national anthem, like burning our country’s flag, is not only ‘disrespectful’ but ‘dumb.’” Justice Ginsburg, as published by the New York Times as of Oct. 14, recently issued an apology on the comments she made regarding the issue. She noted to reporters that she was “barely aware of the incident or its purpose, [and her] comments were inappropriately dismissive and harsh.” A Supreme Court Justice can acknowledge her lack of foresight and understanding in her critique of the protests. Professor, can you do the same? At the College of the Holy Cross, where reflection is considered an important part of the Jesuit tradition, I ask you to reflect upon your statements and consider what they mean on a broader scale; consider what you stand for.
My hope is that one day everyone—regardless of political affiliation—will become partners in striving for peace, security, justice and equity, because that would be a true display of the symbol that the National Anthem represents.
Funmi Anifowoshe ‘17