The Charlottesville Imperative

charlottesville imperative Karan PowellLike most Americans, I was both saddened and disturbed by the recent tragedy in Charlottesville. While these events left me feeling aghast and somewhat speechless, I nonetheless felt compelled to write in solidarity with college, university presidents and leaders nationwide, and especially with President Teresa Sullivan and our nearby neighbors at the University of Virginia and greater Charlottesville. The violence and atrocities, including the death of an innocent bystander, are reprehensible. There is no place for hatred and violence of any kind on our campuses or in our communities and, in fact, these actions are contrary to the core values we value and uphold as both educators and as citizens.

Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra expressed the following shared concerns of presidents across the Minnesota system regarding these events, sentiments which truly resonate with me:

“What was under attack in Virginia was the values our colleges and universities hold dear: That our campuses are places of hope and opportunity for all people; That our commitment to diversity and inclusion makes our campuses and our communities stronger; That our campuses welcome the robust but civil debate and discussion of ideas; That the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech but not the right to harm those with whom we disagree. . . . We stand with the University of Virginia, the City of Charlottesville, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and we rededicate ourselves to ensuring that our campuses are safe places free of intimidation or fear, where ideas can be debated and where all students – no matter their race or creed or gender – can learn and grow.”

Since APUS is a fully online institution, some may ask, why does it matter? We have no in-person students, nor do we have any Confederate statues on our campus, so why say anything? We have no one at this time physically attempting to march on the campus, protest, or speak out asserting their academic freedom or freedom of speech. However, these actions apply not only to the physical campus, but also to the virtual world in which our nearly 3,000 faculty and staff and tens of thousands of students across the U.S. and worldwide live and work.

Our mission is to educate students for “service and leadership in a diverse, global society.” We are both American and global citizens, many of us public servants. This is very relevant to us and how we learn, lead, and interact.

We are privileged to serve many active-duty and veteran students, and thank them for their courage and selflessness in service of peace and justice. We also appreciate and stand with the leaders of our U.S. military who this week spoke out against racism and extremism:

  • “The Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred.” — Admiral John Richardson
  • “Our core values of honor, courage and commitment frame the way Marines live and act.” –General Robert Neller
  • “The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775.” — General Mark Milley
  • ”I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we’re always stronger together – it’s who we are as Airmen.” — General David Goldfein

We at APUS join them in promoting a world of peace in which we live and work on a foundation of our core values.

But what does this mean for us in our daily interactions with the extended AMU and APU learning communities? In our virtual classrooms and on social media, we engage in and encourage an environment which at times can feel or lead one to believe they are anonymous and hence to communicate without sufficiently considering the impact of how they do so. Since there is no associated body language to soften what may be deemed offensive or inflammatory language, the import of words is magnified in this virtual environment.

APUS truly values civil discourse and the need to reflect upon these and other current events, upon history and its meaning, and the inclusion and freedom of all people. These are topics that can, and should, be addressed directly not only on the social implications of Charlottesville, but as the foundation for all of our interactions, whether online or in-person, as global citizens. The ability to engage in meaningful civil discourse defines a truly educated person.

As educators, and as those pursuing an education, our collective responsibility is a demanding one. In our virtual world of higher education, we learn to speak with civility; develop and expand our use of language in forum discussions; develop critical thinking and analytical skills for assessing and reflecting on current events, life, and professional practice; attend to our humanity and ethically reflect on our values as we interact with one another and the world around us. Our established mission of educating for “service and leadership in a diverse and global society” is therefore more timely than ever.

Service and leadership are needed not only for a diverse global society, but for building and healing an inclusive global society built upon mutual respect. Let us stand united as an APUS community, fully committed to fulfilling this ongoing mission.



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