Letter to the Editors:
In a December 4, 2020 editorial, Ethan Bachand ‘22 and Kelly Gallagher ‘22 address a number of very important issues as they respond to the op/ed published by Professor David Schaefer in the Fenwick Review. Their editorial engages with a number of Professor Schaefer’s statements and provides specific evidence that contradicts some of his more sweeping assertions and generalizations. Bachand and Gallagher demonstrate the highest ideals of Holy Cross’ liberal arts education: critical thinking, cogent and concise argument, and synthesis of multiple academic disciplines. They also demonstrate the highest and best values of our Jesuit Catholic identity: respect for the dignity of all persons, compassion, and courage.
Moreover their editorial provides the example of precisely how any academic institution should operate in the intersection between freedom of expression and anti-racism. When one member of the community makes an argument about historical or current realities, other members of the community are free to challenge the argument and the evidence provided and to present a counter argument with appropriate evidence. Such critical engagement and interchange is an important part of how the work of anti-racism moves forward.
The editorial also correctly notes the importance of the cultivation of “a space in which its mission can thrive.” I would suggest that there are many such spaces on campus. The Spire is one such space, as this important exchange shows. The 1620/2020 Speaker Series provided a series of ‘spaces’ to learn about indigeneous populations and in particular the indigeneous populations in Worcester. The McFarland Center provided a series of ‘spaces’ in the conversations with alumni, Dismantling Structural Racism, they sponsored over the summer. Faculty members have a particular responsibility to provide such ‘spaces’ in the classroom. Contrary to the editorial’s suggestion that the College would “wield academic freedom as the end of discussion,” academic freedom is an institutional commitment designed to facilitate continued dialog and discussion. As a College we pledge to support open inquiry, not because all ideas are of equal merit, but so that in expressing different ideas, we may come to reasoned, evidence-based conclusions about which ideas have more merit and why.
Two weeks ago Fr. Boroughs offered a very different Thanksgiving message to us all suggesting the ways we might practice gratitude while acknowledging failures. He encouraged us to “pray for the the wisdom and courage we need to seek ways of ‘inviting in’ and not ‘shouting out.’” The Spire editorial is an important invitation for us to discuss issues that are critical to our mission: what are our responsibilities as we seek to understand historical and current realities; how do we in practice actively engage anti-racism and actively support freedom of inquiry? If, as the editorial states, “the College must take responsibility for addressing the harmful nature of his work,” then each of us—for we are all “the College”—must respond to this invitation.
I thank those who drafted this editorial response to Professor Schaefer’s piece. I hope the editorial might be the beginning of a more extensive dialog. There are many different ways individuals might choose to contribute to a dialog that would lead to a more informed understanding. Faculty across the College offer different perspectives in the classroom as they guide students through a critical analysis of the current scholarship on the topics raised in Professor Schaefer’s op/ed. Other faculty have focused their scholarly work in this area doing the research that will uncover the experiences and realities that have been historically overlooked or ignored. Others at the College will choose to engage in individual conversations or will participate in public forums that we sponsor on these topics. All of these responses are required if we are to do the work of anti-racism in the spaces provided by a commitment to freedom of inquiry.
Margaret Freije, Provost and Dean of the College