To the Lafayette Community:

Yesterday we witnessed an extraordinary assault upon our nation’s history, democracy, and the rule of law. At a time when the country is already buckling under the pressure of an almost year-long pandemic, we watched in horror and disbelief as American citizens were incited to storm the Capitol Building and disrupt the processes of democratic government that define us as a nation.

One of the most widely circulated photos of the scene showed our own local Congresswoman, Rep. Susan Wild, forced to take cover on the floor, as police attempted to restrain the mob that soon succeeded in invading the chamber. The blow struck against our country’s legitimate electoral processes, and the threat levied against our elected representatives, were a grim reminder that our own safety and freedom depend on the ability of our system of government to fairly represent and protect us.

We were also reminded that our prized democratic freedoms are not equitably distributed. The striking contrast between the police response to yesterday’s riot, and their handling of last summer’s protests, served to highlight the concerns about systemic racism that animated those protests. In Lafayette Park last June, largely nonviolent protesters against racial injustice, many of them Black, were forcibly dispersed from a public park with tear gas in a clash that left a number of them injured. At the Capitol, the primarily white insurrectionists who smashed windows to break into and vandalize a federal building were able to wander freely within and to depart with little interference.

As an educational institution, we have a special responsibility to the principles of democracy that form the foundation of our government: to uphold them when they are under threat, and to critique them when they fail to live up to our aspirations. A moment like this is a test of our mission. I believe that Lafayette College is well equipped to meet that test.

The goal of a Lafayette education is to create thoughtful, ethical, and responsible citizens, and yesterday’s shocking events underlined the urgency of that need. We were reminded of the importance of shared sources of reliable information as a basis for forming opinions; of the power of language to influence people’s beliefs and actions; of the need for civic education to instill understanding and respect for democratic processes; and of the role of social analysis in understanding systemic racism and privilege.

Many events of the past year have shown that the need to educate ourselves about critical issues in the world is a challenging and lifelong project. I hope that the modes of inquiry, discussion, and support that are integral to a Lafayette education will be a valuable resource to all of us at this difficult time. Thank you for your support of the College and its vital mission in the lives of our students and the world

Alison R. Byerly

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