The Spreading Virus, Part 3

I expect that panicked college administrators will not wait for the petitions and protests to roll up on their front door, and will begin preemptively apologizing and emoting in politically correct ways. I didn’t have to wait long. Here’s what circulating today at Emory University from president James Wagner and the dean of campus life:

Dear Emory:

Dr. King’s often-quoted and powerful observation that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” calls us to examine our own community when we see evidences of injustice in other communities. In the letter below, our own Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life, Dr. Ajay Nair, reminds us of this duty and points to the current activities and programs at Emory intended to open conversation and discovery and to seek further justice in the life of our campus community. I commend it to your reading, reflection, participation, and action.


Jim Wagner, President


To the Emory Community:

Recent events at institutions of higher education offer yet another reminder that issues of social justice are persistent and pervasive – although few of us need to be reminded, given the still-open wounds of the tragedies in Ferguson, Charleston, and other communities.

Today, we see a dramatic increase in college students’ awareness of and organized response to systemic oppression directed toward historically marginalized communities. The Black Lives Matter movement is one powerful example of such grassroots action led by a new generation of change agents.

As campus populations grow increasingly diverse, so too does social awareness. Students are embracing their own polycultural identities and those of others. They recognize that each of us is a composite of many identities, and that we cannot be defined solely by traditional criteria like race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any other single aspect of the complex beings that we are.

Such awareness by our students eschews social injustice at personal and systemic levels – and demands positive change on our campuses and throughout our society.

Our Emory community is not immune from social injustice. We need to remain vigilant and engage in socially just and culturally humble ways as we pursue our collective vision to create a flourishing community. Toward that end, Emory has been taking a number of significant steps.

For example, three years ago, the Campus Life Compact was developed collaboratively by students and administrators. More recently, Creating Emory, now a key element in our orientation program, encourages first-year students to grapple with their own values and how their values relate to Emory’s great diversity and strongly held principles. Although many of the initiatives in the Campus Life Compact have been realized, we are working with students to achieve the remaining goals and also pursuing new initiatives to improve student life at Emory.

Last year, we officially launched a planning process to develop the Emory Campus Life Strategic Plan. This five-year plan will provide the foundation for building a nimble, dynamic campus life that intentionally and creatively embraces the challenges and opportunities facing higher education today – challenges in demographics, technology, politics, and more. If you are interested in joining our strategic planning efforts, please email Judith Pannell at [email protected].

As we work together to eliminate injustice and inequity, let us remember our commitment to open expression, which is fundamental to the Emory experience and the role of higher education in our society.

Justice and open expression are not mutually exclusive. In our daily lives, we may encounter unsettling, ignominious, unpopular, and even offensive and hateful ideas. At Emory, we have a unique opportunity to counter such ideas, the open expression of which our policy protects. If we don’t counter the ideas we disagree with, we cannot possibly create a more socially just community, and we most certainly cannot passionately pursue and discover truth—a hallmark of our great university.

As always, I thank you for your commitment to Emory and look forward to working with you to help you achieve your personal goals and make outstanding contributions to this university and the world.

Best Wishes,

Ajay Nair, Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life