Message from the President on Racism | May 31, 2020

A message from President Brennan O'Donnell on racism.

Dear Members of the Manhattan College Community:

I hope that this finds you and your loved ones safe and well this Pentecost Sunday as we continue on our unmapped journey in the midst of so much pain and division in our country.  

I write to you today feeling both sorrow and anger at the suffering that we are bearing witness to, sorrow and anger that I am sure I share with you. The horrific death of George Floyd last week on a Minneapolis street at the hands of four policemen has given us all cause to grieve. The deeply embedded sin of racism has afflicted our country for 400 years. These deaths, along with the deaths of so many black men and women before them who were singled out because of race, remind us of how broken our country and our society is—and has long been—when it comes to racial justice.  We ask, with Dr. Martin Luther King, “how long” until our black brothers and sisters are treated with the same humanity our white brothers and sisters are treated with? But the answer does not come.  What the U.S. Catholic Bishops called “radical evil” in 1979, is alive and thriving still, forty years after those words were written.  What are we, as members of a community of educators in the Catholic Lasallian tradition, to do in response to the horrors taking place now, in our particular historical moment? 

Respect for the dignity of the human person is one of the five hallmarks of the Lasallian educational tradition.  This is, quite frankly, the foundational reason that Manhattan College exists.  It constitutes the very core of the work we do as educators, administrators, and human beings. As a community we are committed to the full freedom and flourishing of every human life.  We are called to stand up and attest to that dignity at every turn, especially where it is threatened and violated.  As our former colleague Brother Luke Salm, FSC, reminds us:  we are called to “save” our students and ourselves from “failure and disintegration of every kind” and to promote “health instead of sickness, knowledge instead of ignorance . . . relationship instead of loneliness . . . justice instead of injustice . . . love instead of hate.”

The cruel and gratuitous deaths of George Floyd—of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and so many others—remind us of how prevalent the powers of “failure and disintegration” continue to be in our society. This harsh reality calls us all to deep self-reflection.  What are we doing, both as individuals and as a community, to live up to our callings to face this failure and to repair this disintegration?  When we refer to one another as sisters and brothers, do our actions support our words? Are the structures of our community—on campus and wherever we live or work—as inclusive and diverse as they should be? Are we listening to everyone, or just to those who confirm us in our settled views? Are those of us who cannot fully know the realities that our sisters and brothers of color face settling for being sympathetic bystanders, at best, when we are called to be allies in the fight against racism?

As an educational community committed to radical freedom, we must face up, courageously, to the radical evil that continues to plague us, drawing upon our powerful resources to redouble our efforts to support each other, to stand and bear witness, and to uphold human dignity everywhere.  

I applaud the call to action of our Student Government Association; I am grateful to the many members of our community who have already done so much to awaken us to our obligation to be a light in the darkness; I am heartened and encouraged by the day-in day-out commitment evident in our faculty, students, and administrators to the dignity of the human person, and I look forward to exploring together ways we might do more fully and more effectively what we are called to do by our Lasallian mission and our shared humanity. 

I write to you this Pentecost Sunday in sorrow and in anger, but also in faith that the spirit will continue to work among us and through us to heal our world in all of the ways it needs to be healed.  


Brennan O’Donnell

By MC Staff