Racism and Educational Mission

Dear Members of the Bates Community,

As a nation, we continue to enact and re-enact race-based violence and murder. These brutal patterns are the work of centuries and decades, they are baked into the structures that define our society, and they are carried forward by the perverse intention of some and the broad indifference of many. Over the past several months we have been reminded again, in particularly painful ways — by the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis; Breonna Taylor in Louisville; Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick, Ga.; Tony McDade in Tallahassee; and Sean Reed in Indianapolis — of our capacity for brutal acts based on race.

On behalf of Bates College, I condemn these acts of extreme cruelty and the long history of racial injustice and violence against black, brown, and indigenous people that have made them possible and dangerously routine. Over 50 years ago, on April 9, 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Mays, Bates Class of 1920, president of Morehouse College, and lifelong mentor to Dr. King, spoke of the same pattern of violence, shock, and inaction, when he stepped to the lectern to deliver King’s final eulogy:

A century after Emancipation, and after the enactment of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, it should not have been necessary for Martin Luther King Jr. to stage marches in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, and go to jail 30 times trying to achieve for his people those rights which people of lighter hue get by virtue of their being born white. We, too, are guilty of murder. It is time for the American people to repent and make democracy equally applicable to all Americans.

Plainly, we have failed to heed Dr. Mays’ call. As an educational institution, we have an urgent responsibility to prepare our students to be conscious, informed, and ethical actors in the world. This cannot happen unless we teach them the history and modalities of racism, equip them with the tools to fight against it, and motivate them to act for justice as they carry out their lives.

The work of racial equity and antiracism is central to our mission, and it should guide the actions we take every day as an institution and as individual members of this community. We know from our students, faculty, staff, and alumni of color, and others who care deeply about these issues that we have a long way to go to protect members of the Bates community from racist acts. We have an even longer way to go to foster a campus and culture where every student is supported for success across all aspects of their college experience and all students feel the ownership and belonging that are crucial to personal growth and transformation.

The atrocities that we have witnessed over the past several months are not, in the vernacular of 2020, merely evidence of “hot spots” of racial unrest. Events and attitudes that are the product of generations and high intention must be met with an extraordinary depth of commitment and a determination to make, and hold ourselves accountable for, tangible progress.

The work of antiracism is difficult work. But we are committed to this work, and to making democracy, in the words of Benjamin Mays, “equally applicable to all Americans.”


Clayton Spencer