Letter to campus community on navigating the political climate - August 29, 2016

Dear Gettysburg College students,

During First-Year Convocation I shared some thoughts with the newest members of our community.  I am writing today to share some of those thoughts with all of you—and also to share some expectations that I have of you as Gettysburgians.

We have just experienced a summer of increased national tension and emotion.  The political climate is highly charged.  As a nation we are grappling with serious issues of racism and xenophobia.

We are not immune from those tensions and issues here at Gettysburg.  We will no doubt have many political debates on our campus this semester, some in formal settings and some over lunch in the dining hall.  We will discuss many national and local issues, including racism and immigration;  we will share findings from the campus climate study conducted last spring; and we will continue our work towards a more inclusive campus environment.

Here at Gettysburg College our core values pair the importance of “the free and open marketplace of ideas” with “the worth and dignity of all people” and a “sensitivity to the human condition.”  Those values take on increased significance as you live together in a community composed of individuals who have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences: students who’ve lived in poverty and students who are wealthy; students from the U.S. and students from around the world; gay students, straight students, and trans students; Muslims and Jews and Christians; students of color and students who are white; Republicans and Democrats.

The privilege of living in this community affords you the opportunity to get to know one another well, to ask each other questions, to debate ideas, and to challenge each other.  I expect your sense of community—your sense that we are all Gettysburgians here—will also inspire you to be respectful and civil in your interactions with one another and to act in accordance with our institutional values. 

Here at Gettysburg—of all places—we have a responsibility to stand together and work to eradicate oppression and inequality.  It was right here, 153 years ago, that Abraham Lincoln challenged our nation to rededicate itself to its founding principle of equality, to a new birth of freedom for our country, to the unfinished work still before our nation.  It is clear that although we have made great progress, there is still much unfinished work to be done. 

And so I challenge each of you as Gettysburgians to step up to that charge here on campus and wherever you go.  I ask you to live up to our institutional values, to act as a leader on whom others can depend, to provide a voice for those without a say, to treat others with respect and compassion, and to determine how you will contribute to the unfinished work before us.


Janet Morgan Riggs ‘77