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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

President Amott's Message to the College

Dear Knox Community,

As so many of you are away from campus, I wanted to report to you on an open forum we held this past Wednesday to discuss concerns about events related to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, including a student's recent protest; the current climate at Knox; and our commitment to a more inclusive future for our campus.

On Wednesday, approximately 100 faculty, staff and students shared their thoughts; it was an enlightening and emotional discussion that brought many national issues into a local and, sometimes, personal context. Many of those present at the forum affirmed their admiration and support for the courage of the Knox basketball player who protested the Ferguson decision at a basketball game in Clayton, Missouri. I regret that the College's initial response to the protest caused any members of the Knox community, especially the student, to doubt our historic commitment to individual acts of conscience and freedom of speech, and I vow to do better in the future. The College is committed to supporting our students as they engage with and lead conversations on the pressing moral concerns of our time.

As a community, we cannot underestimate the effect that these national issues have on us all as individuals, and we must respect one another as we respond to these events according to the dictates of their own consciences. I have learned that addressing climate issues on campus deserves more of my focus, and I am committed to ensuring that all faculty, staff, and students put in the time and work necessary to strengthen our community.

Many speakers at the forum described their perceptions and experiences of racial insensitivity at Knox. Among the examples cited were the continuing presence of the Siwash name and paraphernalia, the seeming invisibility at Knox of the important issues raised by the events in Ferguson and other cities, and the desire for more opportunities for engagement with issues of diversity and inclusivity. I regret any instances of disrespect and hurt that some in our community have experienced, and pledge fully to investigate all reports of insensitivity and discrimination. At the forum, and in the Knox 2018 strategic plan, I also pledged an expanded College commitment to education, training, and respect, so that every student at Knox has equal access to a transformational educational experience.

I believe there is no better place than a college campus for open dialogue and respectful consideration of a wide spectrum of views. Knox is especially suited for such conversations, as we are rich in the number of diverse perspectives. This week's open forum was just one more small step forward, and I understand that many more small and large steps are necessary to meet the needs and expectations of our campus community.

Some steps include a workshop held this past August attended by a quarter of the faculty addressing how to build an inclusive classroom. Even before the Ferguson decision, faculty and staff began thinking of how best to address those issues once classes were again in session, potentially utilizing the occasion of the week of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. convocation. And the Knox community gathered a second time this week to discuss the Staten Island grand jury decision, while faculty have come together this December to read and discuss Whistling Vivaldi, which explores the influence of stereotypes on campuses. Intergroup Dialogue will continue and, in addition, we are committed to identifying new ways to better understand and value each other and to encourage open dialogue on important and timely societal issues. Plans are also underway for additional workshops on diversity and inclusivity for faculty and staff, and we will work with the Campus Diversity Committee, Student Senate, and faculty, staff and students who have expertise on these matters as we move forward. As always, I welcome feedback and input from the campus community on additional ways we can address the concerns brought to my attention over my time on campus and especially over the past week.

This is a momentous time for us, one in which the core Knox values of critical thinking and engagement are on display and tested. It provides us with the opportunity to take a deeper look at who we are and who we want to be as individuals and as a community. This conversation will continue both online and face-to-face, and I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to engage in those conversations openly and respectfully. I very much look forward to the return of our students in January so that these conversations, sharing of perspectives, and community growth can continue.



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Printed on Saturday, April 1, 2023