Open letter from a Guilford College student advocate

To the board of trustees, faculty and student body

C/o President Jane K. Fernandes

Dear Madame President, thank you for taking the time to meet with me this morning about my first letter. As a student advocate, I feel I stand alone. From criticism over my first letter, Student Government Association wilted. The face of the Community Senate cannot be the “face” of this, “right now.” A walkout organizer walked away. Minority leaders answered with silence. Intimidation gags. I feel afraid, but do not fear. I stand alone, but still I stand. Will you stand? You want a “liberal arts college of distinction.” Hear, please.

Madame President, you called for “transforming racism.” I’ve heard numerous voices suggest how transforming racism might work, mine among them –– workshops, bystander training, curriculum reform, targeted hiring, etc. These measures, while helpful, are just portions of the greatest need: changing Guilford’s structure. Since racism is structural, I call on you to transform Guilford’s spirit by changing its decision making structure.

Guilford’s well documented history of bigotry records that when the board of trustees is more open and tolerant, the college follows. They have abetted bigotries for fear of shrinking enrollment and losing alumni dollars. Who wants such bigoted enrollees? Who wants such corrupt boards, such cowardly benefactors? Who wants such tainted money?

The committee structure –– Guilford’s decision making engine –– aids that tradition of abetting bigotry. Staffed primarily by under-representative faculty, they make decisions not wholly sensitive to lives they have not lived. Honestly though, how could we really expect them to do otherwise? Worse yet, at last count, we have 94 committee seats, but only 66 faculty to fill them. This further decreases diversity by dilution. Understandably, nothing can be done to diversify the faculty, due to the hiring freeze.

However, you can diversify the committees. Advocating for the student body, I call upon you to increase diversity by pushing for a reduction in committees. I call upon you to increase diversity by pushing to fill four-tenths of all seats on decision making bodies with diverse students. That would include executive teams, cabinets, panels, faculty committees, search committees, hiring committees, etc., and even the board of trustees. I call upon you to secure for these representatives, not only a seat and voice, but also a vote and compensation for their work.

Madame President, in discussing Guilford’s turmoil this week with a cherished friend, wise beyond her years, she called to me, “No peace without justice.” I responded, “True!” She had quoted the last half of a part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Santa Rita interview, “There can be no justice without peace and … no peace without justice”. A few justice promoters, including #blacklivesmatter, have negatively misappropriated that as, “No Justice! No Peace!” They logically imply this threat: “If we don’t get justice, we won’t give you any peace.” At the moment, they have not the resources to enforce that threat, but financial, legal and divine authorities do, the latter one can with just a Word (“Let foxes hear! Let them fear!”). Writing from a Birmingham jail, King also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In Guilford’s context, how can it remedially apply King’s statements?

Know Justice! Know Peace! To know peace and enjoy success, the Guilford community must sincerely reconcile “everywhere” its failures to implement justice, those racial and those more heinous. HINT: For fear of her safety, I would discourage my daughter from enrolling at Guilford College. Restorative justice works best, but only when it works. When it fails, simple justice must prevail. I urge you, please, to redress, or mediate redress for, victims of injustice at Guilford College. If doing so causes Guilford to lose face or money, if it removes incorrigible persons from campus or if it turns irreconcilable cases over to the state for remedy, so be it. Trying to spare not even one of those is a just exchange for human dignity. Redress victims before it’s too late, before the hounds reach your gates.

Sincerely Yours,

James Ricks, CCE student advocate