Condemnations of Capitol Rioting (and Trump) Continue

Statements from college presidents grew longer and more formal, in contrast to short initial reactions Wednesday.

January 8, 2021
 
Samuel Corum/Stringer via Getty Images
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump Wednesday.

College leaders on Thursday continued to strongly condemn the violence that the took place at the U.S. Capitol this week, adding to a growing chorus of criticism by presidents and provosts from across the country. The recent statements were much longer and more formal than the initial reactions issued in the hours shortly after angry mobs of supporters of President Trump rioted and forced their way into the building.

Below are excerpts of statements from dozens of college and university presidents and higher education leaders sent via email Wednesday night and throughout the day Thursday to members of their respective campuses.

Gregory Washington, president of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.: “We are living through a moment in our American history that we can scarcely comprehend as it unfolds. Network news outlets show our U.S. Capitol building overtaken while our leaders exercise a cherished ritual of our democracy. They are using words such as 'coup attempt' and 'insurrection.' And they are reminding us that America has not experienced such a seizure of its Capitol building since the British sacked it in the War of 1812. Many of us are also struggling to reconcile the dissonance of this response with that of protests that occurred in Washington last year. Those legal acts of civil disobedience provoked far more violent and forceful law enforcement actions. We are left with far more questions than answers tonight.”

Amy Gutmann, president, and Wendell Pritchett, provost, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia: “Nothing is more foundational to American democracy than respect for the peaceful transfer of power. Fueled by the dangerous propagation of falsehoods and disproven allegations, a mob on Wednesday assaulted this bedrock value of American democracy, storming our nation’s Capitol in an attempt to block the constitutionally mandated counting of certified electoral votes in our 2020 presidential election. As citizens, scholars, teachers, and university leaders dedicated to understanding, defending and strengthening American constitutional democracy, we join together with everyone who raises their voices and condemns threatening incitements and assaults on the political freedom of all citizens.”

Vanderbilt University in Nashville: “Vanderbilt University strongly condemns today’s violent and deeply disturbing assault on the U.S. Capitol and on our democracy. Using violence to undermine and disrupt our democratic institutions and processes simply has no place in our country. Our divisions strain our ability to solve our nation’s most difficult challenges. The United States faces many headwinds threatening to tear at the social fabric of our communities, including a horrific pandemic, but overcoming them will require a commitment to the values and institutions that unite us. As an institution committed to vigorous debate and the exchange of differing ideas in a culture of civility and mutual respect, we firmly believe that the common interests, values, hopes and aspirations we all share are much greater than what divides us. Through intention and effort, we must advance much-needed dialogue and help bridge what keeps us apart.”

Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore: “As distressing as the scenes of violence were, equally so were the odious and jarring images of vile hatred that we cannot ignore: unfurled Confederate flags, a shirt mocking Auschwitz, a large hanging noose, and a gruesome reenactment of George Floyd’s callous murder. We cannot, and must not, erase this sad moment from our collective history. But we can take from it the charge to double and redouble our commitment to the democratic spirit that has shaped our country since its birth. The norms and institutions that define our democracy are so difficult to build but so easy to deform and damage, which is why communities like ours must continually join in the hard work of embodying democratic values of open and respectful dialogue and dissent, that are peacefully engaged and effectively harnessed, in service of the common good, of opportunity, of justice, and of human dignity.”

James Lentini, president of Molloy College in Rockville Centre, N.Y.: “The disunity and turmoil that defined the presidential election has erupted in violence in Washington, D.C. today. I reaffirm Molloy College's commitment to the history of the peaceful transition of power in this country and the Constitution of the United States of America. It is painful for all of us to witness what is happening in the Capitol. As an institution and as a community, we are committed to a culture of support and respect … I am confident that these trying times will allow us to find the best in ourselves and ultimately contribute to a better country and a better world. Let us commit ourselves to living out the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”

Lawrence Bacow, president of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.: “Earlier today, we witnessed an incomprehensible spectacle in the heart of our nation. The rioters who forced their way into the Capitol assaulted the democratic process and endangered public servants who have devoted themselves to the defining work of our democracy -- carrying out the will of the people.

“The future of our Republic depends on our willingness to defend the values that brought it into being. The time has come for people of every political persuasion to denounce the lies, lawlessness, and violence that have brought our nation to the brink of constitutional crisis. As members of a university community dedicated to truth, learning, research, debate, and service, we condemn ignorance and hatred, and stand in support of the rule of law and the role of knowledge.”

Peter Salovey, president of Yale University in New Haven, Conn.: “My grandparents immigrated to this country to seek a better life for themselves and their families. That the United States aspired to be a nation ‘of laws and not of men’ was not simply important to them: it was a promise met with a sense of profound duty. And so it has been for generations of Americans. The violence we saw today on Capitol Hill underscores for me that our democracy must enjoy complete and uncompromised protection.”

Robert Brown, president of Boston University in Boston: “A bedrock principle of our constitutional republic is the peaceful transition of leadership after an election. Interfering with the electoral transition verges on sedition and threatens one of our society’s most important protections from anarchy. The most distressing aspect of yesterday’s storming of the Capitol was that it was the result of a continuing campaign to create mistrust in the validity of our national election, promulgating without evidence conspiracy theories that have been rejected by courts across the country. We call on the outgoing administration to fulfill their duties to the Constitution and ensure a peaceful transition of power.”

Lee Pelton, president of Emerson College in Boston: “Today, as I watched with a heart made heavy by the astonishing events unfolding in the nation’s capital this afternoon, I was reminded of what Elijah Cummings, chair of the House Oversight Committee said at a Committee hearing, one year and one month ago: 'The greatest gift that you and I, Mr. President, can give to our children is making sure that we give to them a democracy that is intact, a democracy that is better than the one we came upon.' By that measure, this president has failed. This evolving grand experiment that we call democracy, at its ideal best, should be a place of liberty, of light, of hope and of promise -- even in the face of its many flaws and shortcomings. But today, the light is dimmer, liberty is shackled, hope is elusive and the promise is ever receding like the tide going out to the sea.”

Clayton Rose, president of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me.: “Today’s events are a stark reminder that we take our freedoms and our democracy for granted at our peril. They require our attention and engagement, and our willingness to hold our elected leaders accountable. While what went on today and the lies and attacks that created the groundwork for today have shaken us all, I do not doubt the viability of our republic. In fact, the optimistic part of me wonders if it is actually a wake-up call that could strengthen it. We shall see if, as a country, we are up to making it so.”

Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.: “What happened today in Washington D.C. is unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime. Like millions and millions of Americans, as well as people from around the world, I am horrified, disgusted, and deeply saddened by this violent attempt to overturn an election. Never could I have imagined citizens of our country storming our Capitol. It is time for all Americans to live up to the democratic ideals that have reflected what is best about our country since its founding, and for our nation to come together and heal the wounds that have emerged from the bitter divisiveness that has come to define our society. I condemn what happened today in the strongest possible terms, and I write this message because it is essential that all leaders speak out to oppose violence; to reject this affront to our democracy; and to lend our voices in a call for a peaceful transition to the new administration when our next president, Joe Biden, is inaugurated in two weeks.”

Shirley M. Collado, president of Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.: “Like so many Americans -- and so many people around the world -- I am completely appalled and horrified by the mob action and scenes of destruction that have unfolded today in our nation’s capital. It is very clear that the purpose of this attack on our democracy is to disrupt the process of a peaceful transfer of power and to foment fear, intimidation, and terror. Not only must we decry this activity -- and the individuals who participate in it or condone it -- but we must use this moment to affirm our collective responsibility, as a nation, to engage across difference with respect and grace. My heartfelt appreciation goes to the many public servants, first responders, and journalists who are risking their lives today to ensure the United States endures as a beacon of hope and possibility.”

Ronald Mason Jr., president of the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C.: “The easy response is that Trump and his enablers played with fire and the Capitol got burned. On a deeper level, poor and working-class white people are pawns in the Trump movement to perpetuate the system of White supremacy in America. It is a system that concentrates wealth in the hands of a privileged few and oppresses people, especially Black people, in order to do so. As a nation, we cannot begin to heal until we admit that we have a problem, and our problem is the system of White supremacy.”

Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.: “Northwestern affirms the sanctity of our country’s 244-year-old democratic institutions and processes, especially the peaceful transition of power, the rule of law and adherence to the results of a free and fair election. I call on our nation’s elected leaders to step up at this most precarious moment and join us in defending the basic tenets of our Constitution. As difficult as 2020 was for our country and our society, in a few short days, 2021 has posed even more challenges.”

Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark in Newark, N.J.: “The shameful siege on the U.S. Capitol today and on democracy, itself, has once again thrown our nation’s divisions into sharp relief. There is a political chasm between the mob that stormed the U.S. Congress this afternoon and the majority of Americans whose commitment to resolving differences democratically swelled the ranks of voters this election season to record highs. Likewise, in the images of the how today’s mob was initially met, we find painfully stark contrasts with Black Lives Matter protests in cities across the country over the past year, in so many of which squads clad in military battle gear immediately confronted peaceful protestors on the presumption that the protestors posed an imminent threat to our nation’s political solvency.”

Milagros (Milly) Peña, president of the State University of New York’s Purchase College in Harrison, N.Y.: “Yesterday's events at the Capitol Building have shaken and saddened us beyond measure. The democratic process is central to what this country stands for, and for those of us who have advocated for voting rights for disenfranchised groups, this is especially disheartening.

“We firmly and strongly stand against anyone who would resort to violence to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power and to strip Americans of their votes. We will continue to focus on our role as a public college to foster civic engagement, civil dialogue, and to inspire the next generation of future leaders.”

Tim Killeen, president, and Barbara J. Wilson, executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Illinois system, along with Robert J. Jones, chancellor of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Michael D. Amiridis, chancellor of the University of Illinois Chicago, and Karen M. Whitney, interim chancellor of the University of Illinois Springfield: “For more than 150 years, the University of Illinois System has been about learning, and there is a vital lesson that our students and every one of us must take to heart from Wednesday’s horrifying and utterly disgraceful events in our nation’s capital. It is a reminder that our democracy is both sacred and fragile, and can only be preserved if our elected officials and every citizen stand firmly behind the orderly and peaceful democratic processes that built our republic -- with a government of, by and for the people -- and made this nation a beacon for the world. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, whose signature launched our nation’s land-grant universities: ‘Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.’”

Paul Pribbenow, president of Augsburg University in Minneapolis: “We stand for a peaceful transfer of power in our republic and condemn the violence that transpired in DC today. Our democracy demands that all of us stand up for the values and commitments that point to our better angels! Stay strong, my friends.”

Marty Meehan, president of the University of Massachusetts system and former Democratic Massachusetts representative to the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2007: “During my years of service in the United States Congress, I never could have imagined the U.S. Capitol being desecrated in such fashion. Equally, I couldn’t have envisioned elected officials inciting and condoning seditious violence and thereby connecting themselves to actions aimed at subverting our sacred democratic principles. It is undeniable we all have a lot of work to do in restoring our democracy while also confronting the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racial injustice.

“As a university president, I am optimistic because I know that our students and young people across this country will continue to strive for the more perfect union that each generation has pursued. It is our job to encourage, inspire and prepare them to lead. As President Kennedy said in his City On A Hill speech just before leaving Massachusetts for his inauguration, these times call for leaders to demonstrate courage, judgment, integrity and dedication as ‘the eyes of all people are upon us.’”

Jesuit College and University Presidents joint statement: “We, the presidents of the Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States, condemn in the strongest terms the assault on our democratic processes by the mob that attempted to interfere with yesterday’s Electoral College certification in our nation’s capital. We join with those citizens and civic organizations across the country that call for an end to the rhetoric and violence that have surrounded this otherwise peaceful election.”

Alison R. Byerly, president of Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.: “One of the most widely circulated photos of the scene showed our own local Congresswoman, Rep. Susan Wild, forced to take cover on the floor, as police attempted to restrain the mob that soon succeeded in invading the chamber. The blow struck against our country’s legitimate electoral processes, and the threat levied against our elected representatives, were a grim reminder that our own safety and freedom depend on the ability of our system of government to fairly represent and protect us.

“We were also reminded that our prized democratic freedoms are not equitably distributed. The striking contrast between the police response to yesterday’s riot, and their handling of last summer’s protests, served to highlight the concerns about systemic racism that animated those protests. In Lafayette Park last June, largely nonviolent protesters against racial injustice, many of them Black, were forcibly dispersed from a public park with tear gas in a clash that left a number of them injured. At the Capitol, the primarily white insurrectionists who smashed windows to break into and vandalize a federal building were able to wander freely within and to depart with little interference.”

Mathew B. Johnson, president of Albion College in Albion, Mich.: “Yesterday’s actions were an attack on the very fabric of our democracy, and unfortunately were not a one-off. Rather, they were the logical culmination of a prolonged campaign to undermine our democracy and a clear display of white supremacy. I am reminded that just a few short months ago, domestic terrorists plotted to kidnap Governor [Gretchen] Whitmer [of Michigan]. Across the last several years some have sought to undermine the legitimacy of our democratic institutions, fanning the flames of division and hatred with misinformation.”

Melody Rose, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education: “Last night the world witnessed the desecration of our nation’s hallowed political walls, devastating injury and loss of life, and a significant threat to our sacred electoral process. Still, Americans woke up this morning to learn that our political institutions endure and the peaceful transfer of power will prevail. The ideals of our republic -- an enduring commitment to fair and democratic elections, the safe and predictable transition of power, and a free and informed press -- continue, undeterred from these threats.”

Mim L. Runey, chancellor of Johnson & Wales University, along with Marie Bernardo-Sousa, president of Johnson & Wales University Providence, Larry A. Rice, president of Johnson & Wales University North Miami, Richard Wiscott, president of Johnson & Wales University Denver and Cheryl L. Richards, president of Johnson & Wales University Charlotte: “Like many of you, we were shocked, angry, and heartbroken yesterday as we watched rioters descend upon the United States Capitol in Washington, DC. Within our own JWU community and across our nation, there will always be political disagreements, different viewpoints, and varied life experiences. That diversity in thought makes our community stronger and makes our nation more dynamic, but only if those differences are centered on mutual respect. Make no mistake: What we saw yesterday was not a political disagreement. We watched violent protesters attempt an insurrection to dismantle the democratic institutions that have successfully persevered for nearly two and a half centuries. What they did was terrifying and unacceptable.”

Luis G. Pedraja, president of Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Mass.: “I am saddened and dismayed to watch the footage and read the news of today’s assault on the cradle of democracy. To see those who would disrupt what should be a historic day, celebrating the peaceful transfer of power after a democratic election, is disheartening and goes against everything we represent as a nation. I sincerely hope that we can find common ground, unify this country and restore the faith in our government and the ideals that define us both as a nation and as a beacon of democracy to the world.”

Soraya M. Coley, president of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, in Pomona, Calif.: “I understand that many of you may be concerned about the apparent tenuousness of our democratic institutions. A free society depends on laws, fairly administered, but also an expectation that we will strive to abide by ‘the better angels of our nature.’ Indeed, the scenes from Washington today may cause us to doubt the ties that bind us as a nation. I plead with you to not despair. We can overcome even the most bitter division. I hasten to recall that the horrific events of Selma’s Bloody Sunday in March 1965 galvanized support to pass the landmark Voting Rights Act just five months later. I am confident that, in time, our nation will heal from the anguish of this moment and become better as a result.”

Jerry Prevo, president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.: "As we mourn the violence and destruction that unfolded before our eyes yesterday, let us look to the One who put the planets in motion and holds the stars in His hands. He is still the Prince of Peace, and He is still Emmanuel -- God with us. Therefore, let us humbly seek Him on our knees together. God can pick up the pieces of our wounded nation and heal us. He can renew our hearts and our love for each other until we are once again one nation under God and indivisible. He is our only true hope."

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