President Bogart responds to nationwide calls for racial equality and justice

The following is a memorandum emailed to members of the Maryville College community from President Tom Bogart regarding nationwide calls for racial equality and justice.


TO:  Maryville College Faculty, Staff, and Students 
FROM:  Dr. Tom Bogart, President 
RE:  College Response to Nationwide Calls for Racial Equality and Justice
DATE:  June 3, 2020

Many of us in the campus community have found recent news about racist violence painful to read. Fellow human beings—George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor—have been killed on the unfounded assumption that they must somehow be dangerous, without even having been credibly accused of any crime. These killings are only the most recent prominent examples of the gap between ideals of racial equality, on the one hand, and the violence that is disproportionately experienced by people of color, on the other. They show us how far we are from the just society that we want and that every person deserves. At Maryville College, our Statement of Purpose calls us to “nurture the deep concern for persons that leads to constructive action.” Events such as these are antithetical to the respect for individuality that is a hallmark of the Statement of Purpose. But even in troubled and confused times such as these, every day also brings with it examples of and opportunities for constructive action. We take heart in these.  

In order for our actions to be constructive, it is important first to listen, and to avoid demonizing whole categories of people because of their race, their opinions, or their profession. The Statement of Purpose reminds that we “must listen attentively and humbly to all human voices” so that we “may hear the call of God no matter how God may speak.” It is difficult to listen humbly, particularly when emotions are high and messages can be painful to hear. But listening is the way to learn from our fellow human beings, whose experiences and insights can be profoundly different from ours. It requires us to consider that we might be wrong. And if we believe that others are wrong, our challenge is to find ways to persuade them of their error. Doing so requires real empathy, as none of us wants to admit we are wrong. Creating positive change requires both courage, to confront what is wrong, and persistence, because change can take time.

Maryville College has a history of actively working to advance what is right and change what is wrong. Racially integrated from our founding in 1819, first in the state to award a bachelor’s degree to a woman, and among the first to award a bachelor’s degree to an African-American. More recently, we have supported veterans, non-traditional students, and Latinx students. We know, though, that this history is not just a cause for celebration, but also a challenge to live up to.  

The news has indeed been bad – and not for the first time. But at Maryville College, we believe that it is in facing challenges that we grow. And we renew our commitment to, in the words of our Statement of Purpose, “strive to build and strengthen the human community.” That work will take many forms, according to the abilities and convictions of each person. In that way, the College can fulfill its ambition to be an instrument of liberation and growth, as the members of our community dedicate a life of creativity and service to the peoples of the world. 

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”