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A Pastoral Letter to the American University Community

Late last night, we learned that once again our campus had been targeted with another racist attack designed to sow fear and anxiety among our students, faculty, and staff. As University Chaplain, I condemn these acts as violating not only our deepest values, but also the recognition that every person is a child of God and worthy of human dignity.

The placement of Confederate flag posters adorned with cotton branches at a number of places around campus is a despicable act whose sole purpose is to cause harm to the emotional well-being of our community, particularly our community members of color. That this incident should occur on the heels of two events at which our campus celebrated diversity, empowerment, and racial justice-the celebration of Malala Yousafzai's life-changing work and the inauguration of Dr. Ibram Kendi's vision for the Antiracist Research and Policy Center-cannot be overlooked as mere coincidence. As with previous attacks, the timing here is designed to instill the maximum amount of anxiety and emotional distress, and to attempt to undercut any sense we might have had of progress and achievement. In that regard, it will fail.

American University is built on deep and abiding values of open and honest inquiry, servant leadership, and the affirmation of the human dignity of all. Those values have motivated our community since its founding to champion justice, equality, and compassion. They have called us to work unceasingly to build ever more inclusive community. They call us still to continue the long, often difficult work to build a just community in which all people are fully included. And it is because of those values that we were targeted.

Whether done by an outside agitator or a wayward member of our own community, these acts were perpetrated against American University precisely because we are a community that stands against racism, injustice, and bigotry. But the very reason we were targeted, is the very reason that we will prevail in that task. As Dr. Aw said in her statement last night, we will not be deterred. We were targeted because of our greatest strength, and that strength will see us through.

Last night, Dr. Kendi remarked that his enterprise was an enterprise of faith-a faith in the ability we have as a community to build an antiracist campus, nation, and world. I join in that faith, because I have seen in you the seeds of that more just, more inclusive world. I have seen in our community the strength that will bring us together and serve as a model of justice and reconciliation for the entire world. I have seen in you, the love that casts out any attempt to sow fear.

In solidarity,


Rev. Mark A. Schaefer
University Chaplain