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:
“The Hill We Climb”
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.