For the 11th Summit on Transforming Learning, Rollins College held a teach-in on race. President Cornwell gave the opening preliminary remarks, which were excitedly candid and direct. He opened with a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, "Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated."
Racism is an issue many people like to forget about. President Cornwell referred to the attitude of many young people as a sort of color blindness. To the racially colorblind, personally ignoring race is enough to combat racism. He stated that this is not a true understanding of or way to promote social justice. He challenged the audience to review longevity by race, incarceration by race and other statistics by race before arguing that racism is not an issue. His particularly powerful idea, hostility undermines the right to thrive, cements race as something that should be talked about.
What made these opening remarks especially powerful, was that President Cornwell addressed every elephant in the room. He essentially said, "I am a middle-aged white guy, who profits doubly in the world." This corresponds to the provocative thought of Ta-Nehisi Coates that black children are taught to work twice as hard and expect half as much. The sheer novelty of directly addressing an issue, as can be seen from the New Hampshire primary election results, has a shocking effect – one used sparsely in an academic setting. President Cornwell addressed the phenomenon of cultural discourse norms, which calls to mind, just how one can talk about this – especially if they happen to be one of "white priviledge."
A woman thanked President Cornwell for taking steps to address the lack of significant diversity at Rollins, saying, "I have hope." Although Coates presents hope as a consolation prize in "Between the World and Me," it does have value. Hope embodies the want of change. Dr. Mamta Accapadi spoke after President Cornwell, and opened with a quote by Frankl, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." She proposed that the summit be viewed as this space. This successfully bridged the gap between hope and action as perceived by Coates. Yes, the summit is a place to learn and discuss. Yes, true action is needed. Yes, action will follow. President Cornwell advised that change is hard, and there will be push-back. He also stated he was committed to change, "But I can't do it alone."
Get ready, Rollins. Change is coming.