Read Provost Christine Siegel, PhD's Message Can't see the graphics? View this email in your browser
    Office of the Provost    
Dear Colleagues,

Yesterday, I had the privilege of participating in a discussion organized by Racial Justice is Social Justice (RJSJ), a grassroots coalition initially formed by students. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and pursuing public response, RJSJ brought together over 100 students, alumni, staff, faculty, and administrators to reflect on the experiences of the past weeks and their hopes and desires for the Fairfield University community.

As I listened to the discussion, I was saddened to hear many expressions of and reactions to a fear that began as anxiety in early Spring and erupted in terror last week – fear of contracting and spreading illness, fear for safety in one’s home, one’s community, and one’s nation, fear for loss of wages, loss of experiences, and loss of lives, and most troubling fear of the other. As a psychologist, I know that unresolved fear festers and manifests outwardly as projections of resentment, anger, and hostility, even as it manifests inwardly as mindsets of shame, guilt, and disgrace. Fear undermines our attempts to develop ourselves fully as humans. As I said in my opening remarks this academic year, for this reason, fear and fear mongering have no place in our scholarly community. Fear prompts us to create distance, slow down, not act. It directs us away from but not toward anything.

In contrast, psychologists recognize love as an emotion in opposition to fear. Again, from my opening remarks, love, rooted in trust, can foster creative thinking, authentic dialogue, respect between colleagues, and justice within organizations. Love is an emotion that allows us to realize what it means to be fully human, in touch with our vulnerabilities in ways that open us to learning from others.

Love in its requirement to be vulnerable, however, is not easy. As humans, we are imperfect in both our ability to express love and our capacity to receive love when it is expressed in words other than the ones we long to hear. It is easier for the imperfect human to put up defenses, argue or fight against fear, than it is to approach difficult situations with a loving open heart. For help, we must rely on each other. This loving practice of reliance is especially challenging to enact at a distance, but that is our particular call right now.

Throughout the day yesterday, I was heartened to hear many expressions of that reliance and hope for our future. I heard expressions of love for health workers and first responders who risk their own lives for the safety of others, love expressed by those who kneel, stand, or march in solidarity with the oppressed in our society, and love for a community worth fighting for. In the evening, I reflected on the acts of love that I see unfolding across our campus community. Yesterday’s RJSJ discussion, which began with a prayer followed by ground rules for courageous conversations, created a brave space for open, meaningful and authentic dialogue. On Sunday, we will come together in community at a vigil organized by Campus Ministry. I hope to be lifted by your presence at this event as we engage our contemplations and move toward action from within this loving community.

As Provost, I pledge to the continued pursuit of a scholarly community — a community of debate, dialogue, and action — where love conquers fear, where attention to emotional development stands alongside commitment to civic responsibility, where passion fueled by that emotion sparks intellectual curiosity and scholarship, and where the creativity born of that passion seeks a truth that is God.

I call on all members of the Fairfield University community to join me in that pursuit.

Christine Siegel, PhD
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Fairfield University
1073 North Benson Road, Fairfield, Connecticut 06824
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