Centering Our Humanity
A Message from Dr. Renée T. White, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
Over the past week, I’ve been in deep reflection about what the role of the Provost’s Office is in creating an environment at The New School where different voices, experiences, and perspectives can bear fruit. I have reread our institutional policies on the free exchange of ideas and creative expression and found it a valuable point of departure as we navigate, question, explore, and discuss complex histories that require even more nuanced solutions: “We are committed to academic freedom in all forms and for all members of our community, and are equally committed to protecting the right of free speech of all outside individuals authorized to use our facilities or invited to participate in the educational activities of any of the University’s academic divisions.”
At the same time, intellectual deliberations, plus scholarly and creative work, are not exclusive of our own distinct and significant personal experiences, kinds of knowledge, or research framing. It is evident how deeply disturbing the many atrocities around us are. As I read messages and speak with faculty, staff, students, and alums, a few things have been made clear:
This is about people: Geopolitics, definitions of (home)land, social policy, displacement, history, diplomacy, colonialism, military strategy, protests, violence, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia are all about people. Put simply, what is currently happening is about our individual and collective humanity, whether Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Arab, or otherwise self-identified. It is clear that we each are, or know someone who has been, affected by this. Centering everyone’s humanity and human rights within this context is the primary lens through which we can attempt to come together as a university. People are in pain. For those who come from Gaza, Israel, or Palestine, and those with loved ones in the region, the terror and suffering are beyond what words can articulate. I hear and see this, along with expressions of anger, confusion, resolve, and much more.
Words and naming matter: Part of what makes this difficult is that what we say or don’t say and how we say it carries significant weight and holds consequences. What we say, and how we say it, can understandably be read as erasure and denial, willful ignorance, lack of care, or even worse—as dehumanization. Because of this, I understand and recognize that whatever I say, whatever the timing, will not speak to the reality and the lived experience of every group or constituency on campus that is impacted by this atrocity. That goes for the messages from others in leadership roles at The New School. The breadth and nuance that is required to address the various human rights crises that flood our world and consciousness is beyond the bandwidth of any one individual or institution.
Safety is paramount: Worry for personal or professional safety has accompanied many of the discussions that have occurred. People have expressed concern that they may be doxxed, harassed, targeted by work colleagues or supervisors, and much worse. It goes without saying that we have to affirm our commitment to behaving in ways that center people’s physical and psychological safety and right to be free from harassment and harm. We must make decisions and act in accordance with our institutional principles of freedom of speech, thought, inquiry, and expression. It is our shared responsibility to create safe spaces for divergent and contested outlooks.
As each of us navigate these complexities, I encourage you to hold space for one another. We may not find solutions but we will endeavor to continue with a steadfast focus on and search for the way forward. Let this serve as recognition of our shared responsibility to commit to upholding tenets of care, peacemaking, creative practice, intellectual rigor, and radical hospitality in the service of our shared humanity. Words matter, and the work matters too.
Support is necessary: In addition to us taking care and supporting one another individually, the university also offers services that I encourage you to access as needed. Across the Provost’s Office, the areas of Student Success and Engagement and The Faculty Center continue to share resources which support our students, faculty, and staff. To read about how community agreements can support open and difficult dialogue, and view a collection of resources for all members of our community, please click below.
We will continue to work with students and our colleagues across the university to identify safe and generative spaces for each member of our community to share, listen, and learn during these challenging times.