EdBoard Nov. 6: The necessity of university statements
In the wake of any tragedy, there is inevitably an email. When something inflammatory, horrific, or both has taken place, we can be certain that our university will send out a statement on the matter. Are these really that important?
Often, the mere existence of these statements feels gross and performative. While I have no doubt that individual administrators and President Jahanian himself have strong personal feelings on the matters, the official statements often ring somewhat hollow — especially so when they have to carefully revise their statement to more specifically condemn one group. There's a tendency to ascribe a lot of inauthenticity to these statements, because why should Carnegie Mellon, as a private money-making institution, really care about these things?
And of course the statements are often, understandably, written by committee. We're not getting Farnam's unfiltered, personal beliefs about the war in Israel and Gaza. What probably happened was that a number of skilled marketers and professional writers spent an afternoon hammering out the most ostensibly inoffensive, yet passably sufficient statement about the matter.
And of course, there's sometimes even an element of absurdity involved. Getting a statement from the top makes sense, but it feels slightly unnecessary for every department head and/or interim dean of every college to send out a mass email statement as well.
Nevertheless, these statements do serve a legitimate purpose. When done poorly — or not done at all, for that matter — they can incur consequences.
President Jahanian made two official statements on the Israel-Hamas war. The first condemned terrorism and linked a number of resources students can access for support. Three days later we got another email, clarifying that Carnegie Mellon specifically condemns the actions of Hamas. However, by specifically condemning the violence perpetrated by one party of this conflict, it has left other members of the community unsatisfied and feeling like there is an asymmetry to this condemnation of violence.
The opinions of administrators are supposed to represent the values of the university. They should be more than a boilerplate disapproval of terrorism — there is use in making a statement that is specific and relevant. When the school fails to denounce hatred and bigotry occurring on our campus, it implies to some degree that that kind of behavior is permissible (or at least, not worth stopping). More broadly than condemning acts of hatred and bigotry, this is an important way for the school to delineate what kind of behavior it will punish, and what it will tolerate. Post-hoc condemnations alone won't prevent this sort of behavior, but they are an important way to validate and support those who have been victimized by it.