A Statement From Porter College Provost in Response to the Presidential Election

November 09, 2016

November 9, 2016

Dear Porter College community,

I don’t presume to know what you think and feel about the results of the election. I don’t know whether you welcome or deplore them, or whether they bewilder you or vindicate your point of view. If I have learned anything from this election cycle and its outcome, it is that I do not understand other people as well as I thought I did.
 
However, I imagine that the world seems changed, and that whether you feel defeated or victorious, you are, like me, confused and humbled. I encourage you to make the most of this experience and of your place in our academic community. Take time, alone and with other people, to reflect upon what happened, why it happened, what it means for you, and what you want to do about it.
 
Today, I find myself thinking about two passages that I would like to share with you. Think of them as points of entry into the dialogue that I hope will bring us together in the weeks and months ahead.
 
The first passage is from a book called The Human Condition (1958), written by the philosopher Hannah Arendt. A refugee from Nazi Germany and a survivor of the Second World War, Arendt witnessed the cruelty and violence that our species is capable of inflicting upon itself. And yet, philosophy led her to the conclusion that there was reason to hope for the future. That’s because Arendt believed that the essence of our humanity is our unique capacity for speaking and acting together and for beginning new projects. “The life span of a man running toward death would inevitably carry everything human to ruin and destruction,” she wrote, “if it were not for the faculty of interrupting it and beginning something new, a faculty that is inherent in action like an ever-present reminder that men, though they must die, are not born in order to die but in order to begin.”
 
The second passage is from a sermon that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered in Montgomery, Alabama in November 1957. His biblical text that day was the challenging and controversial teaching, “Love your enemies”. Addressing a mostly African-American congregation that was suffering some of the worst injustices in modern U.S. history, King called upon them not to hate the men and women who made them suffer, “because when you start hating anybody, it destroys the very center of your creative response to life and the universe; so love everybody.” He continued: “I love you. I would rather die than hate you. And I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed,” because “[t]here’s something about love that builds up and is creative, [and there] is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
 
I call these passages to your attention, because at a student-led demonstration in Quarry Plaza last night, I listened while Maxine Jimenez, a Kresge affiliate, urged every one of us, regardless of political affiliation, to seize upon the results of the election as an opportunity to do something new, together. She also asked us to have the courage to interrupt the cycle of fear and hatred that the election brought into full view, by approaching each other with compassion and a genuine desire to understand experiences and perspectives that we do not share and cannot fathom. As the poet Denise Levertov has written, “A line of peace might appear / if we restructured the sentence our lives are making….”
 
Even if you can’t do that today, you can aspire to do it tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And even if you fail more often than you succeed, you will have done something tremendous simply by trying. So try, and I will try with you. I am absolutely committed to you, to your freedom to learn and grow, and to your happiness in your life and work here.
 
I look forward to talking with you as the year unfolds. 
 
Best regards,

Sean Keilen 

Provost, Porter College | Associate Professor of Literature 
Director, Shakespeare Workshop | Affiliated Faculty, Theater Arts
1156 High Street | Santa Cruz, CA 95064
(831) 459-3700 | keilen@ucsc.edu