Written by Zachary Baldwin (Student Affairs) and Dr. Mamta Accapadi (Vice President of Student Affairs)
The 11th Annual Summit on Transforming Learning is approaching. This year’s theme is “Advancing Racial Justice: Rollins & Beyond.” As we have been reflecting on the theme of this year’s Summit, we keep coming back to the appropriateness of the word summit.
When we think of a summit, the immediate image that comes to mind is that of a distant peak of a great and perilous mountain. It is ominous. It makes us anxious. It makes us feel dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of what we are facing.
This mountaineering illustration lends itself to so many pertinent topics – how to overcome fear, persevering in difficult situations, creatively overcoming obstacles, etc. Yet, as we have drafted and redrafted this blog post touching on those topics, it feels hollow. We feel the need for another subject, one that is much more formidable and less (immediately) encouraging. We keep thinking of mountain climbers who give up their time, their safety, their comfort to reach the top. They do not just enjoy mountains from a secure distance, or even close up with a leisurely stroll at the mountain’s base. They commit their bodies, their lives, potentially the rest of the moments they would ever live, just to reach the top.
This image begs the question(s): What are we willing to lay aside to reach the top? What are we willing to risk?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
These are some of the final words Dr. King spoke publicly before his assassination. They are challenging words. They are daunting words. To be vulnerable, I do not know how to live up to all that these words entail. The summit, for King, cost him his life, a cost he foresaw.
We continue to reflect, and there are two questions we cannot escape: What are we willing to sacrifice? What are we, as a community, willing to sacrifice?
I do not think that advancing racial justice will cost us at Rollins our lives. But it may cost us in other ways: How much time are we willing to give up to reach the summit? What social capital am I willing to lay down? How many resources are we willing to expend? How many stories of pain are we willing to honor and engage?
The clarity that we have is that we all have meaningful questions and choices. The questions we ask will determine the answers we seek. The answers we seek will determine the choices we make. We can certainly engage the questions of racial justice from a space of “Who is right, and who is wrong?” space. From those answers our choices have the potential to become diagnostic ones.
We can also engage the questions of racial justice from a shared humanity space: “What community do I want to construct, and what can my role be in creation of this community?” From the answer to these questions, our choices have the potential to be life transformative- for ourselves and for others. How do we leverage our courage, love, voices and actions during this time, and always?
We are so encouraged by our administration, faculty, and students’ vision to engage in such a needed conversation. We feel a sense of hope as we think about the students and faculty who will be gathering to collaborate on one of the most pressing issues of our day. To all who are working to put together the upcoming Summit, thank you so much for your dedication and work to enrich our campus and world.
Let us enter into this 11th Annual Summit on Transforming Learning with a heartfelt desire to advance racial justice and a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of reaching the mountaintop.