Last I wrote you, it was in response to the insurrection at the United States Capitol. As the nation tries to reconcile and move forward, we begin the spring semester still in the middle of a pandemic and reeling from horrific incidents of racial injustice. In this state of turmoil and hope, I encourage all of us to consider forgiveness and grace as it relates to Student Affairs in 2021.
Forgiveness and grace are pivotal to becoming a beloved community, as espoused by President Holloway and embraced by Chancellor Molloy. Inspired by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the characteristics of a beloved community include: tolerance, mutual respect, diversity, and the spirited exchange of ideas. Fundamental to a beloved community, all members' voices and contributions at every level of an organization are heard and considered. This description of a beloved community is no different than the core values we hold dear in Student Affairs. Forgiveness and grace open the door for awareness of others' perspectives, inviting us to identify empathetic responses to difficult exchanges.
The Division of Student Affairs is not immune to the societal ills plaguing our nation, which stem from long-standing structural barriers. There are historical issues of inequality that continue to affect segments of our population in profound ways that we have not been able to eradicate. A commitment to each other as human beings is an important way to make progress through the scope of our work as educators and colleagues. This commitment is easy when we agree, and it is put to the test when we experience injustice or violation of trust. The same applies to our students; it is easy to support our talented students leading organizations and taking on meaningful causes; how do we maintain this same level of commitment when a student causes harm to an individual or the community? A beloved community, one where everyone is valued, respected, and challenged to be their best version of themselves, requires that we commit to working through all issues through communication, listening, and seeking to understand another’s perspective. Learning to forgive and extending grace will help us reach mutual understanding. While there are times when it is appropriate to call out behavior, we need to be in the business of calling each other into the conversation.
Central to becoming a beloved community is committing to anti-racism practice, which requires examining the impact of structural racism and an action plan for addressing it in our lives, the communities we live and work in, and the individuals, families, organizations, and communities we embrace. Anti-racism practice enables us to build authentic relationships across racial differences and address the power imbalances between Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and White people for creating institutional change at Rutgers and beyond. The only way we can do this collectively is to commit to our individual development and growth, including forgiveness and grace. While we may not all be at the same place of commitment and understanding, I call upon our collective efforts to foster the conditions among ourselves as a model for our students and each other that invite reflection, engagement, and moments of transformational insights.
I thank all of you who have been committed to helping transform Student Affairs into a beloved community. We are not there, and we will not get there overnight, but we owe it to each other and our students to continue striving towards this vision through our individual and collective actions. Thank you to those who have committed to doing your work however you have chosen to do it. Some of you have sought opportunities to learn, join discussion circles, lead book clubs, facilitate identity groups, actively participate in discussions in your department and at the divisional level, and others work collaboratively to bring awareness to critical issues. The culmination of these efforts will transform our community and ultimately benefit our diverse student body, which is why we are here at the end of the day.
In closing, the profession of student affairs calls upon us to educate all students with an ethic of care and authenticity, something I believe each of you does wholeheartedly here at Rutgers. Our work becomes that much more powerful when we exercise this same ethic of care, sincerity, and commitment for each other as colleagues as we do for our students. This is the beloved community I envision for us.
Let’s have a great semester, and thank you in advance for everything you will do for each other and our students!
Salvador B. Mena, PhD
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
Rutgers University–New Brunswick