In other seasonscapes, the Rutgers-Newark campus looks downright fall-ish these days with its shedding trees:
I have the good fortune of tutoring at the Rutgers-Newark Writing Center this semester, and every student I work with is amazing. One of them, an adult student originally from Liberia, has been laboring over an essay for his English 101 class on the timeless themes of two Wislawa Szymborska poems. One is "The Century's Decline", from the great Polish poet's 1986 volume The People on the Bridge. The other is "Could Have", from her 1972 collection of the same name.
I was thinking about timelessness today while reading in a brick-walled garden along one side of Thomas Jefferson's famed Lawn at the University of Virginia, my alma mater. I'm here this weekend for Young Alumni Council meetings, and whenever I come, I seek out the gardens, which, despite restoration, largely resemble their original early-19th-century designs. For good or bad, that's what resonates with me the most when I return to the "academical village": history both "nearer" and "farther off," as Szymborska writes in "Could Have." "Listen, / how your heart pounds inside of me."
Today at 4:28 p.m. Rutgers University president Richard L. McCormick issued the following LGBT-affirming statement on the loss of first-year student Tyler Clementi. In the Rutgers-wide email, McCormick reiterates the university's commitment to "the moral imperative of an open and egalitarian community" and notes that the country's second gay college student association was founded on the campus in 1969. McCormick also says he'll be meeting with LGBT student leaders to identify "areas in which Rutgers can better support the needs of this community." Altogether, I think his statement strikes the right notes for this tragic moment. It was certainly heartening to me, a new member of the Rutgers community as an MFA fiction student at the Newark campus.
As McCormick notes, there will be a vigil for Clementi this Sunday at 7 p.m. on the New Brunswick campus's Brower Commons. There will be another vigil for Clementi this Monday at 7 p.m. in Essex Room East of the Newark campus's Robeson student center. I'll be at that one.
McCormick's email in full:
Members of the Rutgers Community:
The Rutgers University community is mourning the death of first-year student Tyler Clementi. We grieve for him and for his family, friends, and classmates as they deal with the tragic loss of a gifted young man who was a strong student and a highly accomplished musician. Our community is preparing to hold a candlelight vigil on Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus. This silent vigil will be an opportunity to come together in this difficult time to reaffirm our commitment to the values of civility, dignity, compassion, and respect for one another.
This tragedy and the events surrounding it have raised critical questions about the climate of our campuses. Students, parents, and alumni have expressed deep concern that our university, which prides itself on its rich diversity, is not fully welcoming and accepting of all students. They have expressed to me and to other Rutgers faculty and administrators the urgent need for every student to be able to live and study without fear of intimidation, discrimination, or threats to their privacy.
Rutgers has a strong history of social activism on behalf of diversity. It was here in 1969 that the second gay college student organization in the country was founded. In that same era, student protests led to expanded opportunities for students of color at Rutgers. In the 1980s, our students spoke out forcefully and effectively against apartheid. We also have a proud legacy of world renowned research on women and the preparation of women for leadership.
By its history Rutgers University is thus committed to the moral imperative of an open and egalitarian community. That work continues today. Last year Rutgers opened an LGBT resource center and established our first LGBT scholarship fund for undergraduate students. And while we are working toward the creation of additional safe spaces in response to student concerns, we must make every space at Rutgers safe. Accordingly, I pledge that we will work even more closely with our student leaders to make certain that our campuses are places where students of all races, faiths, cultures, and orientations feel accepted and respected.
In order to hear directly from our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, I am arranging to meet with student leaders of the LGBT community. When we gather, we will discuss what they identify as the areas in which Rutgers can better support the needs of this community.
Let me also urge your participation in Project Civility (projectcivility.rutgers.edu), a two-year conversation on our New Brunswick campus about the meaning of respect and how we treat each other. The critically important issues of personal privacy and the responsible uses of technology, which have been brought into sharp focus this week, are among the timely topics that Project Civility will examine.
Rutgers is an imperfect institution in an imperfect society, but we are always striving to find better ways to make every student feel comfortable and fully empowered. We have the opportunity and the obligation to be a model for universities across the country. Let us work together to make that happen.
Richard L. McCormick