Black History Month Message from President McConnell

Instead of writing about one of the College’s Core Values this month in a separate post, I decided to write a long post with my reflections on Black History Month and thoughts on diversity at the College.

For centuries, American progress has run on an undercurrent of hope: hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a brighter future for the next generation, hope for equality, justice and inclusivity. Our country has always believed that brighter futures are ahead if we work for it, stand up against hate speech and actions and forge ahead with the fight for change even against the toughest resistance.

This month, we are reminded how far this country has come because of hope, tenacity and the courage of a multitude of people who never stopped fighting for what was right over many generations. It is through this continued progression that we have breathed new life into a founding principle of our democracy: that people have inalienable rights, including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That being said, while we have bent the moral arc of the universe toward justice some, there is still so much more to be accomplished. The fight for equality and justice lives on, especially in a renewed push for opportunity: opportunity to be seen and respected for more than your race, gender or sexual orientation; opportunity to pursue a college education at an affordable cost; opportunity to be hired for roles and positions based on credentials and experience, not implicit bias; and opportunity to be recognized for your achievements in your field (Hollywood, take note).

At the College, we are a melting pot of various ideas and people. We are a diverse place where people explore concepts, ask questions and learn about others who are not like themselves. Our inner strength comes from our diversity and our inclusion to create breadth and richness. Our policy here is to respect differences and look for avenues to understand one another. Surely, we would have a boring place if all of us were the same. Inclusion and respect, coupled with politeness and civility, should be our norm. In an imperfect world, we will always have somebody, for whatever reason, do mean and senseless acts. But we can be a more perfect society when we condemn such behavior and harden our resolve to stand up to it.

The College is not a place to be discourteous or intolerant of others who think differently, love differently, worship differently, or talk differently. Instead, we are a place where different people, different thoughts, different appearances, different tastes, different religions and different ethnicities and nationalities come together to mutually pursue our goals of getting and providing an education. The commonality of our goals creates a plateau of civility, respect and association for all which should preserve and enhance our climate of understanding. Whether sexual orientation, religion, race, culture, gender or whatever makes us different, the tie that binds us is the charity of understanding we extend to one another to see in ourselves something similar as fellow members of the College of Charleston community. The spirit of the Cougars should not be seduced by prejudice, but strengthened by pride in an inclusive, caring campus.

I ask each of us to remember this every day. Stand up against discord and prejudice and stand up for mutual respect. We are here to build up one another – not to tear down. Join with the vast majority here who respect human dignity, the diversity of the individual and the inclusion of all in our environment by turning our backs on those who travel the road of anger, bigotry or hate.

Hope will always yield a stronger response than fear. It is one of our strongest emotions that can be triggered by a beautiful image, a stirring speech, a person or a movement. Case in point, this viral image of Clark Reynolds, shared nearly 30,000 times on Instagram, who gazes up at President Obama as he touches his cheek at a Black History Month event. When put to the test, I’ll always choose hope and optimism and the common ties that bind us together as one people of one world. Why? Because hope coupled together with empathy and perseverance have, and will continue, to help us build a better world for all people that is more warm, more welcoming, more diverse and more inclusive.