As a higher education advocate in Washington, DC, I have walked the halls of Capitol Hill with college presidents, vice presidents, business officers, a Nobel laureate, researchers, and students from astronomers to zoologists.
Over many years, NACUBO members have joined us on the U.S. Capitol campus, meeting with lawmakers to help them better understand the significant investment required to provide a quality college education. These long days of meetings were usually peppered with moments of fascination, gazes of awe, and more than one photo stop. And, rightly so.
It’s easy to be awestruck on Capitol Hill—by the Statue of Freedom, by the 180-foot-high Rotunda, and from the buzz of activity as you pass visitors, staff, and members of Congress. But, the most prominent source of my awe, one that has never dulled since my first meeting in a congressional office, is the realization that your conversations are a part of American government in action.
Our federal government is an institution I have long admired—while still believing it should be questioned and critically examined. I was disgusted and heartbroken on January 6 to have witnessed the insurrection at the Capitol complex. The rioters trampled on patriotism, on love for our country, and on American democracy.
And yet, the story of the siege at the U.S. Capitol should not be dominated by fear. It has deepened NACUBO’s resolve as your advocate in the nation’s capital, further strengthened our professional commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and inspired more admiration for American democracy.
We cannot overlook the way the events of January 6 are contributing to our conversations about race and privilege in America. Symbols of white supremacy were clearly evident in images of the rioters. We all should be talking about the contrasts between the police handling of this event compared to organized protests in response to the March 13 killing of Breonna Taylor and the May 25 choking death of George Floyd, as well as the response of chemical gas and rubber bullets to some peaceful protests. The optics of January 6 are glaring.
While NACUBO cannot tackle all of the complexities behind race and racism in America, we can help business officers think about the role they can play. Our recent brief, Confronting the Need to Address Racial Disparities in U.S. Higher Education, is a great place to start. One chief takeaway: Trust the data and turn it into action.
We at NACUBO are looking forward to 2021, a year in which a vaccine will make strides toward eradicating COVID-19, a year that helps Americans understand that we can question—and improve—our institutions without tearing them down, a year when we all pause to examine our privilege, and when we are not just talking about race but are effectuating change. Please join us.