Where Do We Go From Here?

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The message below from Dean Josef Sorett was sent to Columbia College students on the evening of May 1, 2024

Dear Students,

Many of you witnessed the events on campus last night first-hand, or followed developments on WKCR and social media. Police entering campus en masse for the second time in 12 days, and seeing them lead those participating in the occupation of Hamilton Hall out in zip-ties, are images that will not leave our collective memory for some time, if ever.

Your feelings and reactions to recent events will remain your own, as will the choices and questions those feelings motivate you to pursue. My own emotions continue to weigh heavily on me and it will be a long time before I fully absorb their impact. We all need to process this in our own way, but I hope that we will be a resource to one another in that effort.

Broken glass, doors and furniture are easily repaired, but more enduring damage has been done to the intangible foundations of our community. These deep and ineffable scars will long require care and attention to fully heal. That work will occupy many of my waking hours for the foreseeable future. I ask and implore each of you to join me in that effort — the work of healing as individuals and as a community — in whatever way feels true and of value to you.

Much will be said and written about the events of the past weeks by those who were not here, who do not know the mettle of our character, and who will not be party to the work that lies before us. The digital hall of mirrors we experience online opens up our passions and the questions that guide us to being co-opted — whether by the amoral whims of an algorithm, or the unseen agenda of those seeking to influence us without our consent.

Amid this cacophony, I would remind you that what some see, hear and feel within the tunnel vision of social media feeds can quickly turn from validation and actualization to incitement and group think. Counteracting these forces requires vigilance, but each of us can and must see through these false narratives, finding clarity by maintaining a firm grip on our moral compass and a bearing on reality.

It is hard to dispute that many of these larger social ills have hit our campus hard in the months since October 2023. The anger, frustration, factionalism and distrust have been palpable — and few parts of the institution have been immune. As Columbia College students, I urge you to reject the notion that there are unbridgeable gaps between us and instead hold onto the whole: recognizing the complexity of each of our lived experiences, and refusing the impulse to value one person’s pain or joy above another’s. In view of that whole, I see and feel the great hope of this community of students, staff, faculty and alumni. Even now, I encourage each of you to remember the pride and purpose we represent, together, as a community of learners — protecting and valuing the unique parts of our sum.

I will leave each of you with the question I posed at the beginning of this term, borrowed from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Where do we go from here: chaos or community?” Just a few weeks ago, I could not have imagined the feelings of chaos that have unfolded on our campus, but I continue to have hope in this community. Not a mawkish, Pollyanna hope but a deeply rooted belief that each of you sees value and the possibility for change in yourself, just as you see the worth and possibility of change in others. It is a hope born of an understanding that nuance, sophistication of thought and exposure to different points of view is the path to clearer thinking. Diversity, in its fullest sense, makes us stronger and it need not divide us.

The precise shape or form of the work we must undertake in the coming academic year is not yet entirely clear. Still, I have every confidence that our whole community has an opportunity to move through this uncertainty to a place of greater strength, and with our heads held high.

With respect,

Josef Sorett
Dean of Columbia College
Vice President for Undergraduate Education