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Reflecting on the Events in Washington, D.C.

Dear Friends,

Like many of you, I watched and reflected upon the events that unfolded in the Capitol Building earlier this week with horror, anger, and deep sadness. I was shocked by the deadly assault, but sadly, I cannot say that I am surprised. I am not surprised that an angry group of extremists — stoked by fear mongers at the highest level and unwilling to accept the outcomes of a free and fair election — attacked elected officials, their staff, and our very democracy. I am not surprised that this almost entirely white mob faced a significantly diminished, more passive show of force from authorities than Black Lives Matter activists faced in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. And I am not surprised that some of our elected officials continue to lie and to downplay the violent desecration of our democracy that they themselves helped incite. 

As I’ve considered the events of the past two days, I have thought often of the Swarthmore community. I’ve thought about our collective endeavor to prepare generations of students to serve the common good. I’ve thought about our responsibility to confront the racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic hatred and fear that were on display Wednesday and that permeate our society. And I’ve thought about what it means to be part of this community and to contribute to the creative, intellectual spirit of the College. Swarthmore’s very existence stands as a bulwark against ignorance and the types of seditious conspiracy theories that helped to fuel this insurrection. We educate, we create and disseminate knowledge, and we cultivate the capacity for critical thinking and the ability to distinguish truth from fiction. 

I do not purport to have an answer to the divisiveness that plagues our country. But my hope for a better future has been buoyed by some recent events: Despite efforts to suppress the vote, especially the votes of Black and brown people, we’ve recently held two free and fair elections — the general election in November and last week’s Georgia senate runoff election. A new administration will take office in just 12 days. Millions of people across the globe, including nearly 6 million in the United States, have been vaccinated against COVID-19. And while that process is moving far more slowly than we had hoped, the vaccine development, distribution, and administration signal a monumental shift in the fight against this global health crisis. 

No one knows what lies ahead in the days, weeks, and months to come. I believe, however, that through our collective and continued commitment to justice, equity, civility, and empathy, the Swarthmore community can help forge a better and brighter future for the nation and for the world. 


Val Smith