June 4, 2020

Dear SPIA Students, Faculty and Staff,

"My aim is to agitate and disturb people. I'm not selling bread. I'm selling yeast." This was a graffiti that appeared on the walls of Paris during the civil unrest that began in May 1968. The protests against racial inequality and police brutality that have ignited America after the abhorring killing of George Floyd last week have reminded us that that there is a place for agitation in public life. This is particularly so at the sacred ground of universities, which according to contemporary American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, are sites that are supposed “to unsettle and oppose, to test all orthodoxies, to offer routes by which young minds may travel from one culture to another and learn a valuable type of estrangement from their own.” As a school of public policy, we need to encourage this type of estrangement as a counterweight to our penchant for habitual conformism.

Let’s face it. Our country is becoming more diverse in terms of race, religion, and sexual orientation. Yet, as recent events surrounding such issues as DACA, Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo movement have demonstrated, women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups still face serious barriers. Since institutional racism, implicit biases, and prejudicial treatment across all our social institutions create many filters and obstacles, we run the risk of resigning ourselves to viewing diversity and inclusion as elusive goals. Yet, we need to remind ourselves that the ideals of democracy, justice, inclusion, and caring for others -- so central to the telos of American citizenship -- emerged out of nurseries of opposition to the status quo.

In times that try (wo)men’s souls, it behooves us to operationalize our knowledge and be active citizens rather than apathetic bystanders. At the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), we are committed to an expansive view of diversity, to creating a safe environment for discussion, and to trying to bend the arc of history toward social justice.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi