Through education, conversation, we stand strong against racism

August 14th, 2017   |   SIT

On Saturday, the same day white supremacists were marching through the streets of Charlottesville, Va., Professor Emerita Beatriz Fantini published a story in the Brattleboro Reformer about the history of the Experiment in International Living, the organization that would produce the School for International Training. For 85 years, Bea wrote, Donald B. Watt’s vision that "people learn to live together by living together” has enhanced the lives and understanding of tens of thousands of people the world over.

Also on Saturday, I was in SIT’s Washington DC center awarding 22 graduates their master’s degrees in sustainable development. I sat with those students the previous evening and listened to their journey to SIT and their plans for the future. They are heading out for the Philippines, Lesotho, Liberia, Sudan, Malawi, and across the United States with personal missions to bring change: to enhance education in developing countries, to support rape victims, to improve childhood health. They bring with them a spirit of openness, generosity, and love for their fellow humans.

At the same time on Saturday, our Study Abroad academic directors in Latin America were gathered to evaluate our programs for undergraduates, knowing that the experiences they provide will change our students’ lives. Through their study abroad experiences, these young people will see the world differently and make new plans for their future. Through local homestays, they will become sisters, brothers, children of new families that cross national and racial divides.

Meanwhile, on our Brattleboro campus, groups of young leaders from Iraq, the Caribbean, and the U.K. were learning about one another and having open and sometimes difficult discussions about what unites and divides them.

It is this history, these graduates, these faculty and staff, these young people, which give us the courage to stand together in the face of the acts of racism in Charlottesville over the weekend. This is what strengthens our resolve to fight the disdain and hate that has re-emerged against people of color, people of different religious views, women, the poor, immigrants and refugees.

The images from Charlottesville are disquietingly familiar; white supremacists carrying torches, defaming Jews, battling African Americans peacefully gathered for a prayer meeting and nonviolent protest, and the tragic assault of those standing up for equality and decency. The U.S. Civil Rights movement, the genocides of the Holocaust, of Rwanda, of Bosnia, to name but a few, are still living memory, living history. We know, and too often try to forget, that there is an underbelly to our society. But the re-emergence of these ideas into the light of day – into the center of our society and of our discourse – is a reminder that hate and racism are never eradicated, but exist like a cancer within our system. We cannot drop our guard, become lax in our vigilance, or end our interrogation and demand for accountability for racism in all its forms from family, friends, and our leaders.

As we mourn the loss of a brave young woman who had the courage to march against hate, and we extend our sympathies to the families whose loved ones died or were injured, we also call upon ourselves and our fellow human beings to make intentional efforts to question the beliefs and behaviors related to bias and inequity.

As I think back to Saturday, the faces of our new graduates, the careful planning of our academic directors, the earnest conversations of young leaders, I find many reasons to have hope. There are fine minds that seek to make our world a better place through conversation, education, understanding, and action. We stand together for that world. Let us never be silent. Let us always rise to be counted. Let us always act for good.  

A statement from Donald Steinberg, CEO of World Learning, Inc.

World Learning is committed to empowering global citizens to build peace, social justice and inclusive societies. The tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville this weekend is a sobering reminder that our work is far from done, and that our global development, exchange and educational programs to strengthen cross-cultural communications and understanding have never been more important. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the racism, religious intolerance, and xenophobia that underlies the actions of those who spread hatred and violence. As committed global citizens, we cannot and will not give into despair and inaction; instead, we pledge to redouble our efforts to build a world that cherishes and benefits from diversity.