At Antioch University we maintain that the goals of education must include advancing social, economic, and environmental justice. It is appropriate, therefore, that we applaud the actions of President Joseph Biden within his first few hours in office to approve seventeen critical Executive Orders and Actions which advance those values.
Specifically, Antioch University supports President Biden’s decision that the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Agreement treaty on climate change and recommit to achieving its goals of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten our climate. For the same reasons, we applaud the temporary moratorium on oil and natural gas leasing within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a review of protected federal properties that the previous administration reduced in size or opened to commercial use, and the revocation of the permit allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This last action is a win both for the environment and for the sovereignty and self-determination of Indigenous Americans and their tribal lands. We fully support these actions and encourage our elected officials to continue pushing to address the existential threat of runaway climate change.
We also applaud and find hope from the actions so far taken to promote social justice and to grapple earnestly with our nation’s history of racism and inequity. Specifically, we applaud the action to rescind the pseudohistorical “1776 Commission” and its sophomoric report that whitewashed the depravity of our sordid history with slavery and its impact on enslaved people through over 400 years of invidious discrimination based on race. We support the mandate that there be a racial equity review of the full federal government, and we hope that Congress will also take action to support civil rights and, in particular, the right to vote by passing the Senate’s first bill, the “For the People Act.” Voter suppression based on race, ethnicity, or color is fascism. It is intolerable in our democracy and must end.
Achieving justice for America’s immigrants is also a deeply urgent issue, and we are heartened by President Biden’s instruction to the Department of Homeland Security to renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (“DACA”). Preserving and fortifying DACA will protect the “Dreamers” from deportation, permit them to work legally, and allow millions of Americans and their families to contribute more openly to their communities, rest easier at night, plan for their futures, and pursue higher education. Education is a human right, and Antioch supports these actions that will make it less difficult for so many people to pursue knowledge, truth, and the tools of empowerment and change.
I want to call particular attention to Biden’s request that the Department of Education extend its suspension of interest and payments on federal student loans until September 30th. This action will help many students and alumni across the nation continue navigating today’s pandemic and recession while pursuing their educational goals. Supporting students is social justice, and we hope this is the first of many actions to help make higher education accessible to all—a goal to which Antioch is deeply devoted.
Finally, we applaud President Biden’s Executive Order re-engaging with the World Health Organization (“WHO”) and creating within his administration the position of COVID-19 Response Coordinator, to manage and harmonize all aspects of our response across governments at the federal, state, and local level. Social and economic justice requires that we take immediate, decisive action to eradicate this virus and control this pandemic.
There is much to celebrate today. While the threat to our democracy that culminated in the insurrection of January 6th was real, the transfer of power to a new presidential administration shows that our democracy perseveres. This is due to the work and participation of devoted citizens of all parties who chose to stick together, united in our resolve to serve and care for each other. As President Biden said in his inaugural address, “We’ve learned again that democracy is precious. Democracy is fragile. And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.”
In a month that has seen the pandemic death toll pass 400,000 souls, that has seen an insurgent force of domestic terrorists seize the Capitol and interrupt Congress from its solemn duty to approve the results of the Electoral College as part of the the peaceful transfer of power, and that has seen Washington, D.C. be transformed through military presence into what appeared to be a war zone, the despair and darkness have been palpable. This inauguration was deprived of the celebratory energy it earned and deserved. But at the end of the inaugural ceremony we all received a welcome gift of inspiration and hope from the words of 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman, when she expertly delivered her powerful poem “The Hill We Climb.” She ended with this truly Antiochian notion:
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Our democracy, our nation, and our values are under attack, and the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, by a mob of fascist, white supremacists could not be a more disturbing reminder of that fact for all of us. You’ve all seen the images. They are alarming reminders of how polarized and racist this country still is and how vulnerable we are to domestic terrorists.
But, perhaps one of the most disturbing images for me was this image of a man calmly carrying a large Confederate flag through the second floor of the Capitol, a flag that had never in its history breached the doorsteps of the Capitol, even during the Civil War. Its presence there was a desecration of the Capitol, the “House of the People,” by a flag that has never been a flag of this nation, but instead a flag of an insurgent, racist, and terrorist force that sought to secede from the Union in order to preserve slavery, white supremacy, and white fascism. It has been a symbol of fascism since the Civil War through the period of Jim Crow and beyond.
Ironically, the photograph shows the man blithely carrying that flag, that symbol of slavery, past a portrait of former Senator Charles Sumner, an ardent abolitionist who served in Congress at the same time as fellow abolitionist Horace Mann. In fact, Mann and Sumner were colleagues elected from Massachusetts. Even more ironically, it was Sumner who was the last victim of a violent attack on the floor of the United States Senate. In 1856, after Mann’s term expired and while he was serving as Antioch’s first President, Sumner gave an impassioned two-day long speech on the floor of the Senate strenuously opposing the admission of Kansas into the Union as a “slave” state and reviling the “rape of the virgin territory” by southern slave states “compelling it to embrace their depravity.” Two days following the speech, he was attacked by a House member from South Carolina, who entered the Senate floor and viscously beat Sumner over the head with a metal cane until he was unconscious. Sumner survived, but could not return to his duties in the Senate for three years.
Almost 165 years later, a Confederate flag emerges to cast its cold shadow on Sumner’s portrait, and we are left to wonder, “How is this possible?” How is it possible that after all these years, we are still a nation so divided by hate, so infected by racism, that we could embrace a narcissistic, authoritarian demagogue as President and then engage in an insurrection to overturn an election and keep him in power? Clearly, we must address those haunting questions as a nation and there is not much I could say here today that has not already been said.
But, on this day, in which we give honor to the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., I write simply to say that I have hope. I have hope for two important reasons. First, we have an inauguration of a new President on Wednesday, along with the swearing in of the first Black woman and Asian-American Vice President in our history. Over 80 million Americans have rejected the divisive, racist path we’ve been on for the past four years, and we are leaving this dark period of American history behind us.
Second, I’m reminded of Dr. King’s insight that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe he’s right. The universe will bend inexorably toward justice. Having said that, I’m also reminded of his admonition delivered to graduating students of Antioch College in 1963, that “human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.” We must work for it. We must lead. He continued, saying that:
The great challenge facing us is to be participants, involved participants, in the struggle to make brotherhood and justice realities…. There are still too many detached spectators.… But, in the words of the first President of this College, the great Mann, “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” This means becoming involved in all the struggles of mankind, to make this nation, to make this world better. It means that we must develop a sort of divine discontent.
We all stand on the shoulders of so many who came before us in the struggle for civil rights, human rights, and social justice, including Senator Charles Sumner, Horace Mann, and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., not to mention the generations of people at Antioch University who fought to further Mann’s mission. I’m proud to be part of this noble institution of people, both past and present, who felt the “divine discontent” and who worked to ensure through their teaching and scholarship and support that the arc of the moral universe will indeed bend toward justice—more quickly and more acutely—with each passing day.
And as that arc bends, the more unlikely it will become that any traitorous flag, or vile symbol of hate, racism, or fascism will ever again darken the doors of Congress, or pass by the portraits of the nation’s abolitionists and historic leaders.
Given Antioch University’s long-standing mission of educating for democracy and social justice, it joins and strongly supports the demands of the National Association of Manufacturers, members of Congress, and others, that the Cabinet and Vice President immediately invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution to remove Donald J. Trump from office. In the absence of immediate action by the Cabinet, Antioch University further demands that Congress impeach Trump, try him, and remove him.
It is beyond shocking and appalling that a mob of domestic terrorists would storm, vandalize, and desecrate the Capitol of this country and overtake the halls of Congress while it was engaged in one of its most sacred democratic tasks—affirming the certified votes of the electoral college and the peaceful transfer of power. But it is even more grossly appalling that the attack would be orchestrated by the President of the United States and that it led to the deaths and injuries of Capitol police. Our democracy is in peril.
The events of January 6, 2021 were the reprehensible climax of the assault on democracy that has been the hallmark of the Trump presidency since its inception. He is a profoundly disturbed and dangerous man who knows no boundaries in his effort to mount a coup d’état against the will of the American people. This is not a conflict around political ideology. It is a conflict in whether we will continue to be a democracy or instead become an authoritarian autocracy, whether we will be a country governed by the rule of law or instead a country ruled by a fascist dictator motivated by his own self-interests.
As a University founded on the principles of social, economic, and environmental justice, we are deeply concerned. There can be no social justice without democracy. And there can be no democracy without an educated electorate, schooled in the traditions of factual inquiry, science, and critical thinking. But like all despots, Trump has learned that the key to destroying democracy is sowing doubt about facts, and evidence, denying science, attacking the free press, and creating an alternative reality of his own making. This continued with his efforts to create an alternative reality around the 2020 election. Even before the election, Trump repeatedly used Twitter and other social media to proclaim that, “if he loses, it’s because the election was rigged.” He repeatedly attacked the use of mail-in ballots as “corrupt,” “unlawful,” and “fraudulent.” He claimed victory on election night when millions of ballots were still being counted.
Since the election, Trump has repeatedly made false claims of widespread voter fraud, claiming that ballot boxes were “stuffed” and the election was “stolen.” Yet despite over 70 legal challenges to various state elections, he and his campaign have lost every one. The decisions handed down have been filled with language rebuking the President and his lawyers. One judge described the case as a “Frankenstein Monster” stitched together “to avoid unfavorable court precedent.” One court noted that the paucity of evidence of any election fraud was so apparent that, “this lawsuit seems to be less about achieving the relief Plaintiffs seek…and more about the impact of their baseless allegations on the People’s faith in the democratic process and their trust in our government.”
Despite losing all of these legal challenges, Trump has continued to spread wild and false conspiracy theories that the election was “stolen,” a narrative that is now widely believed by those who stormed the Capitol yesterday and by as many as 40% of the population. It is a baseless claim that has been indulged by some Senators and Congresspeople largely as a political ploy to appease their base and raise campaign money. This is not the democracy our nation’s founders envisioned.
For these reasons, it is apparent that President Trump represents a clear and present danger to American democracy and the safety and security of the American people. Even as the insurrection in the Capitol was ongoing he tweeted that he had won a “landslide victory.” He must be removed immediately to ensure that the American people have a mentally competent executive leader for the next few weeks. Failure to do so would leave the nation vulnerable to further seditious actions by Trump. The institutions of government must once again be deployed to ensure that democracy, the peaceful transfer of power, and our Constitution are once again protected and restored to their rightful place of honor in this society. Most importantly, the immediate removal of the President will be a deterrent to other would-be despots who might follow and send a signal to the world that the 245-year-old American democracy is strong and worthy of emulation. The peace of the world depends on it. We must not fail.
In my letter to the community of June 1, 2020, regarding the George Floyd murder by Minneapolis Police, I promised that the senior leadership team and I would get back to you about ways in which Antioch University will work to foster racial justice and equity, both internally and externally. In that letter, and on behalf of the University, I condemned in the strongest possible terms the unconstitutional abuse of police power throughout the country, the racially motivated police murders of citizens of color, the systemic racism that fosters and protects it, and the growing cancer of white supremacy. As I have done following the Charlottesville riot and the massacre at Living Tree Synagogue, I called upon our elected leaders to unequivocally condemn the racism, bigotry, white supremacy, and white nationalism that continue to deeply infect our culture as a nation. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort has happened. Instead, the President doubled-down on Saturday by calling confederate generals “American heroes,” and protestors, “angry mobs”.
As Chancellor, I have strongly maintained that silence is not an option, that all institutions, especially a University founded on principles of social justice, have a moral obligation to stand up for their values and to advocate for change. To the extent there is any confusion about my position, I reiterate today that Antioch will not be one of those institutions that offer obligatory platitudes carefully crafted to not offend anyone. I and the Board rededicate ourselves to the notion that we have a moral duty to oppose actions, especially government actions, that violates our values. Finally, we acknowledge that we have a moral duty to support the social and racial justice movements that will bring about change.
Unfortunately, this is the twelfth time in the past three years in which I have felt the strong need to stand up and exercise our institutional voice, to denounce injustice, and to call for change. And while Antioch University specifically, and higher education generally, cannot be the movement per se, we all have an obligation to support the efforts that advance our Antioch mission, including the efforts of the peaceful protesters and demonstrators in the Black Lives Matter movement who have raised their collective voices against racial injustice, systemic racism and white supremacy. They have risked their personal safety, and economic security to be a force for change in a society that desperately needs it, and they’ve done that in a political climate that offers them no protection from the very police brutality they are marching against. Some have lost their lives in that struggle, including Heather Heyer in Charlottesville three years ago. We know that many of you are mobilizing in effective ways to oppose persistent racial injustice and systemic racism and to fight for change. We stand together with you.
But, while silence is not an option, it is equally true that words are not enough. Antioch must take concrete actions to confront systemic racism both internally and externally, to be willing to engage in honest self-assessment, and to take corrective action and affirmative steps toward becoming an anti-racist university. Since June 1, I have been working with the Board of Governors and the administrative leadership to chart a course for this work. It will require a commitment of time, energy and resources, but we are all committed to this effort. To that end, today, the Board Chair, Paul Mutty, and I are announcing the following initial actions:
Antioch University provides learner-centered education to empower students with the knowledge and skills to lead meaningful lives and to advance social, racial, economic and environmental justice.
This is just the beginning for Antioch, as it is just the beginning for our nation as a whole. We must seize this opportunity to confront both our personal and institutional racism and to act for the common good in promoting a racially just society. I will continue to keep you informed of the recommendations of the ATF and the actions we are taking. Thank you for all you already are doing and for your commitment.
In Antiochian solidarity,
Bill Groves, Chancellor
Paul Mutty, Chair, Board of Governors
Robert Morgan Fisher ’14 (Los Angeles, MFA) is 2nd Place Runner-up for the Saturday Evening Post 2021 Great American Fiction Prize, his story “Pipe Dream Paste” will appear in the magazine in early 2021 and in the digital anthology. His story “Superlative” appears in Feral Cat Publisher’s new anti-fascist anthology Dear Leader Tales and he has stories in the current issues of Cowboy Jamboree Magazine, The Wild Word, Blood and Bourbon Magazine, Grey Thoughts, Pandemic Publications, and Upstreet.
Andressa Lutiano (Antioch University Online, IMA) was interviewed about her work at Wish School, the bilingual school in São Paulo that she directs. The interview covers the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning, and the importance of innovation. Lutiano is interviewed in Portuguese, however auto-generated English subtitles can be turned on, and they work great. Find the video on Youtube.
Noah McIntyre (Online, IMA) was interviewed by Kelle Sparta on her podcast “Spirit Sherpa.” The episode, titled “Graditute with Noah McIntyre,” is a deep discussion of the practice of gratitude and the impact it can have on everyday life. He talks about his experiences being taught to meditate by Thich Nhat Hanh, working as an executive at Werner Erhard’s Landmark Education, and now working as a gratitude coach. Find the episode in your favorite podcatcher or stream it on Youtube.
Victoria Chang, Chair of AULA’s MFA in Creative Writing, has had her fifth book of poems, Obit, selected by Time magazine as one of 100 “Must-Read” books of 2020. The Time editors say that Chang captures the “visceral, heart-stopping ache” of grief in these poems, which were written in the wake of the death of her mother. “Although Chang initially balked at writing an obituary,” write the editors, “she soon found herself writing eulogies for the small losses that preceded and followed her mother’s death, each one an ode to her mother’s life and influence.” Obit is published by Copper
Mindy Velasco ’19 (Los Angeles, MA) serves as California Program Manager for the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership.
Michelle Suzanne Snyder ’19 (Los Angeles, MA) began working as an arts educator at CSU-Long Beach. She also launched her own business, DreamOut People’s Project, a customized workshop that blends oral history, writing, and visual art for community building.