January 9, 2021

Dear Members of the Campus Community,

I have not stopped thinking about the disturbing events that took place in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. As the House and Senate met to tally the electoral college votes for the 46th president, a riotous mob, enflamed by weeks of incendiary rhetoric, breached the halls of Congress to overturn an election they believed, without evidence, to have been stolen. 

Like many of you, I watched the chaos with fear and shame and disbelief as deadly violence overwhelmed law enforcement and halted the count. And while the marauders were eventually expelled and Congress reconvened to complete its work, the damage was done. Beyond the ransacked offices and humiliated officials, the violation of one of our most sacred ceremonies—the peaceful transfer of power—also exposed the fragility of our democracy.

For me, it was the lowest point in an unprecedented 12 months marked by the twin pandemics of coronavirus and systemic racism. And in that context, one could not help but notice the relative deference shown to white extremists desecrating a hallowed public space, by contrast to the aggression unleashed last summer on peaceful protesters marching in support of Black lives. Among other things, the disparity shows exactly how steep our climb to equity and justice will be. 

But it also shows that our mission as a College—to educate citizen leaders capable of sustaining a democratic society—has never been more important.

That is what I have been reflecting on as we prepare for a new semester. The events of this week may have shaken our confidence. They may have raised existential questions about who we are or why we do what we do. But, to me, they have also laid bare our vital civic duty as a College community. 

In August, when I welcomed the class of 2024, I talked about three ways to embrace that duty: by protecting the health of our neighbors; by exercising fully our democratic rights; and most importantly, by taking the opportunity to learn and practice the art of dialogue. As we enter 2021, I am asking us to recommit to this work. 

Fortunately, we have a unique opportunity to do that together this year. On the week of January 25, Connecticut College will host Elevate, our first annual conference on social justice. The conference’s many workshops, lectures, films, and discussions offer a way for you not only to channel your concerns but also to deepen your engagement with the issues and with each other. Please review the schedule, register for at least one event, and become part of the dialogue. 

Thank you for your commitment.

Katherine Bergeron