As a school of public policy, we have the opportunity to educate and create knowledge to set a better course for society. - Dean Judith Kelley
As I’m sure you are are aware, the most disadvantaged members of our country are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic due to the deep historical structural inequalities they have suffered. We have seen this time and time again as blacks, Hispanics and low-income individuals are more likely to be working jobs that expose them to the virus (while serving others!), less likely to have health care coverage, more likely to get poor treatment as hospitals, and more likely to lose their incomes, livelihoods, and even homes due to the recession.
As if all of this was not enough, in addition, they have to deal with yet more provocative and stressful incidents of hatred and white supremacy, as that perpetuated against Ahmaud Arbery, who, merely out on a jog, was violently murdered by ignorant men who could not imagine a black man running for any other reason that being a criminal and who thought that they were entitled to execute their own version of justice. They have to experience the brutal treatment of George Floyd, who in the most dehumanizing way was suffocated to death on the streets of Minneapolis. They have to endure the taunts and absurd displays of racism as by the woman in the Rambles in Central Park who completely unjustly overreacted and displayed the most despicable and hostile attitude towards a black man. And we must not forget the many other incidents that went before that. Sadly, the list is too long and the injustices are echoed across many marginalized communities.
Adding insult to injury, some authorities are chastising and threatening those who are speaking up against this hatred and those who are reporting the truth. Those who should be consoling are instead inciting violence. Those who should be holding abusers accountable are themselves abusing power. This atrocious behavior, from the individual in Central Park, to the representation of public authority by some members of the police and our government, is injurious first and foremost to our fellow human beings directly targeted. It is also an affront to democracy itself, an assault on the values we hold dear, and a dangerous undermining of our freedom. Whether such acts of hatred are executed against blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, Native Americans, sexual and gender minorities or other marginalized people, they are equally abhorrent.
That all this should be happening in the middle of a pandemic, at a time when we need to display our best character, pool our talents, and hold up each other, is deplorable, and, frankly, unfathomably irresponsible.
We know different. We believe different. We need to be different. Sanford’s graduating Master of Public Policy (MPP) students provided us a beautiful definition of public policy this year in their graduation speech. To quote Meril Pothen, the 2020 graduation speaker: “I humbly offer this definition: Policy is the academic and professional manifestation of giving a damn! It is taking that inherent human instinct to care for one another, and scaling it to care for society.” (@ min 11:50).
Yet there have been so many of these acts in the last few years that speaking up against them all is becoming like a broken record. But we must not give into the normalization of these behaviors. Yes, we need to give a damn! We must all give a damn!
As a school of public policy, we have the opportunity to educate and create knowledge to set a better course for society. For scaling, as Meril said, our instinct to care for society. That is our calling. That is our opportunity. And yes, even in these difficult times, that is our responsibility.
With love and respect for the most marginalized and suffering members of our community,