Editor's note: Millikin University President Pat White sent the following email to the campus on Oct. 7.
Dear Millikin Students, Faculty, and Staff,
Over the past several months, colleges and universities nationwide have been engaging in conversations surrounding race, equality, and social justice. At Millikin, we, too, have been active in this important dialogue. Last January, the President’s Commission on Inclusive Excellence was formed to advance our work and education on these important topics. This email serves as an update to the work and to provide awareness on how recent national events have impacted our campus.
On September 24, during the football game at North Central College in Naperville, several of our football players kneeled during the National Anthem. Football Coach Daniel Gritti, his coaches, and the entire team discussed this action and the reaction it received.
The University supports the right of our students to voice their beliefs and support issues important to them; however, the impact of various responses received to this action caused many to lose sight of the critical issues facing our University and our nation.
After the Homecoming football game on October 1, the football team discussed the seriousness of the issues facing all of us as Americans and how to make sense of the upset and offense that many have expressed. Coach Gritti shared with the team a statement he drafted. The entire football team expressed agreement with the statement below:
"For of those to whom much is given, much is required." -- President John F. Kennedy
We, the players and coaches of the Millikin University football program, recognize the extraordinary honor we have to represent Millikin University. We also recognize that with this honor comes great responsibility – not just to the University community, but, as Millikin has taught us, to the democratic society in which we live. We also recognize that our football team is a unifying force for the campus community. Unfortunately, we recently experienced how our response to current events can divide our community regardless of the intent of our message. After listening to those who both agree and disagree with our stance, we have chosen to forge a new path.
We have listened to members of the Millikin community who view the playing of the national anthem as sacrosanct. Please let there be no doubt that we have the utmost respect for the sacrifice made by those who served or do serve in our armed forces, including many of our family and friends. Therefore, it is our desire to do nothing that could be viewed as disrespectful of their sacrifice.
At the same time, we take very seriously our responsibility as good American citizens to be the voice of the voiceless and to engage our community in a discussion of the issue of race in America and to support those members of our football team who exercise their rights and responsibilities, in the words of the Millikin Mission statement, to become “democratic citizens in a global environment.”
Therefore, rather than have our message be misunderstood or misconstrued, we are united in our decision to stay in the locker room until kickoff during which time we will engage in a moment of reflection to personally recognize the sacrifice of so many and renew our commitment to living up to those most important words: “with liberty and justice for all.”
May God Bless America.
The Millikin University Football Team
I believe strongly that true education does not make things simple, but in fact, helps us all see and work through the complexity of human experience and communication. When the issues involve race and justice and differing contentions of what patriotism mean, all of us can stand more education -- to do more thinking, reading, and talking. We all need to listen to voices and opinions different from our own and listen with our hearts and minds awake to difference. This is not easy work, but it is a vital task for all of us who are Millikin at this time as we seek to become our best imagination of who we are as Millikin.
To that end, the President’s Commission on Inclusive Excellence will be launching a new discussion series: “Uncomfortable Conversations.” The President’s Commission organized one such uncomfortable conversation this week. If there is a topic you feel would benefit from this series of uncomfortable conversations, please communicate with Dr. Tom Robson, Assistant Professor, School of Theatre and Dance at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Carrie Pierson, Director of the Office of Student Success at email@example.com. It is my hope that, as we have already begun to see more substantial dialogue about inclusive excellence happening on campus, you will engage in this new series and in the thoughtful discourse surrounding these important issues.
More detail as to the time and character of this series will follow.
Sincerely yours in Millikin,
Patrick E. White