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Dear Students, Colleagues, and Friends of The Graduate School:

A vintage photo of Mary and Robert Holmes
Mary and Robert Holmes, my maternal grandparents.

Like you, I watched in horror and shame as the U.S. Capitol building was attacked on Wednesday and like you, I’ve spent the last few days reacting, reflecting, and thinking about the attack on democracy that we witnessed. Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are probably the two elements of the First Amendment that are most dear to me.

My grandparents marched in the 1960s and were present at the March on Washington in August 1963. Absent those protections of our freedom — and their courage in exercising their rights — we would still be a country divided by law. I’ve thought a lot about my grandparents over the last few days and have been pondering how they would have reacted to the violence in Washington, D.C. I think they would have reminded me that the First Amendment protects peaceful assembly, which is clearly not what we witnessed on Wednesday.

I am still angry and hurt by the events of January 6, 2021, and I probably will be for some time. My first reactions have been to “hunker down” and surround myself with the news I want to hear and the people I want to process that news with. Now that the initial shock has passed, I know I have a responsibility to be part of the healing.

I am honored and privileged to work for a University that has a culture of “low stone walls,” designed to break down silos and prompt discourse. Until now, we have generally viewed our low stone walls as conduits to academic collaboration. In the wake of the insurgence in our divided country, I encourage us to use our walls as a metaphor to prompt self-reflection, conversation, and understanding.

If my grandparents were here, they would tell me to get out of my silo, read widely, listen humbly, and confer broadly to find common ground. And then they would advise me to work with others across our low stone walls — and the higher ones across our country — for peace, equality, and justice. I encourage you to join me in that effort. Nana and Grandpop are watching us.

Suzanne Barbour
Dean of The Graduate School
January 12, 2021

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