June 3, 2020 | Remarks from NAFSA eConnection

Good morning. Welcome to the 2nd week of NAFSA’s eConnection, our virtual program to bring us together to reconnect, share resources, and engage. Before we begin our scheduled programming, I would like to take a moment to turn our attention to recent tragic events in the United States. Today, the world stands together, collectively in pain.

Yet again, we watch police kill another unarmed black man who is pleading for breath. We see again how far the United States is from the ideal of “Equal Justice Under Law.”

In too many instances, many captured on camera, and others far from the public’s gaze, brutality has prevailed, and justice has been denied.

Around the world people have gathered peacefully to express their anguish – as is their right. The U.S. Constitution speaks of “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for the redress of grievances.”

In cities across the U.S., and in sympathy around the world, protesters are calling for justice after the killing of George Floyd, the police murder of Breonna Taylor, the weaponizing of a police call against an unarmed black birdwatcher in Central Park, as well as many other racially charged incidents all just in the last month.

Yet even peaceful protest is under threat. Police used tear gas to break up the gathering of peaceful protestors in Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Square to facilitate a presidential publicity stunt. Lafayette Square faces the White House and hosts symbols of citizen protest daily. That spot is only a couple blocks from NAFSA’s office. If you had been visiting the NAFSA office, you might have smelled the tear gas and seen people running for cover.

The atrocity of George Floyd’s death comes in a season of tragedy as over 100,000 people have died from the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Stay at home orders and social distancing keep us apart just when we need to be together most.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought to light the racial disparities in the U.S. healthcare system. These deaths and that of George Floyd, highlight the tragic fact that inequality kills. In our quest for fairness and justice, we must truly see that every life has equal value, yours and mine. Too many people – some of them elected leaders – want to sow division rather than heal hearts.

Can I find hope amid anger?

Yes, I can.

As international educators, I think we are part of the solution. Ask yourself:

  • On campus, virtual or not, can I use my skills in cross-cultural education to create spaces where ALL students can hear each other’s life experiences and learn from them?
  • In the classroom, through global learning, how can I promote an awareness of the search for justice around the world?
  • And, in my daily life, what assumptions do I make when I meet someone new?

We speak of the “American experiment,” because we are still struggling to build a better society based on values. But we struggle because we think change is possible. We are not complacent.

NAFSA will continue to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion. We will help others with similar values. As part of the eConnection Showcase we urge you to visit the NAFSA Donate Booth and give. One hundred percent of funds raised will be donated to the World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity chef and 2019 plenary speaker José Andrés. This charity is on the front lines of providing food for communities and institutions affected by the pandemic.

Given the renewed crisis we also urge you to consider supporting the Equal Justice Initiative founded by civil rights lawyer and 2016 NAFSA plenary speaker, Bryan Stevenson. To donate, simply go to eji.org. We must repair our communities through many initiatives, one step at a time.

At times like these, which admittedly are all too often, I turn to those whose words bring me comfort. From Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning:”

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes
Upon this day breaking for you
Give birth again
to the dream.

Thank you. Now, I would like to reintroduce to you NAFSA President and Board of Directors Chair, Ravi Shankar.