On January 6, 2021, insurgents attacked the US Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the ratification of a fair and legitimate presidential election. While their motivations were many and varied, it is clear that their violent actions were fueled by a president (and those that enabled him) who spewed lies and falsehoods and fomented distrust in our election and our democracy. It is also apparent that the response to the attacks on the Capitol is yet another example of the deep-rooted white supremacy and privilege that exists in our nation. The predominately white rioters were met with far less resistance and violent aggression than the people of color peacefully protesting the murders of George Floyd and others this past year.
Academic leaders across the country have made statements condemning the rioters’ actions and articulating the important role higher education plays in educating the populace to participate in and to uphold our democracy. President Tracy Fitsimmons (Shenandoah University) made an urgent call to action “to all who value democracy”. She calls on faculty and academic leaders to ensure that students’ curricular and co-curricular experiences connect them to the real world: “Our students need to know how to participate in society, how to listen and how to present their own ideas when they encounter lots of disagreement. Groupthink does not prepare anyone well for life outside our campuses and classrooms. As faculty and administrators, we should remember that nearly all foundational and disciplinary skills and knowledge that students develop in college can play a key role in supporting democracy — or in tearing it down.”
For more than 30 years, LEAD California (formerly known as California Campus Compact), has led a coalition of higher education institutions committed to preparing the next generation of educated citizens to contribute to a healthy, just and democratic society. LEAD California promotes community engagement in higher education – educating students to develop the knowledge, skills, values, and motivations to both make a difference in the civic life of our communities and address issues of social, economic, and racial injustice in our society. Community members, in partnership with higher education faculty and staff create sustained community-based experiences that develop the personal and intellectual development of our students. Through community engagement, students develop skills such as critical thinking, collaborative learning and problem-solving, and relationship building and conflict resolution.
Eloy Oakley, chancellor of the California Community College system stated, “As educators, these events reinforce the need to advance work of diversity, equity and inclusion in our colleges as we help build up communities and strengthen civic life.” Our colleges and universities educate the majority of K-12 teachers in our nation and thus, impact the development of the next generation of citizens. LEAD California believes it is higher educations’ responsibility to create spaces for students to learn about our troubled history of racism and oppression, to learn to navigate conversations on race with compassion, care, and humility, and to develop a sense of agency and courage to address inequity and injustice.
LEAD California is committed to educating students for democracy and positive change. We commit to leading with generosity, integrity, empathy, kindness, and compassion. We commit to being a more clear and consistent voice for racial justice. As we approach the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from him, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
We have a long road ahead to bring security, health, justice, and equity to all. This is the time to live out our values and commitments, and to rise out of the darkness to light the way to inclusion, justice, racial equity, and peace. I hope you will join LEAD California on the road to helping higher education fulfill its promise of educating students for the public good and for the health of our democracy.
Elaine K. Ikeda, Ph.D.
Executive Director, LEAD California
January 11, 2021