I am not, by nature, a risk taker. I prefer to play it safe. Don't make waves. Play by the rules. Use caution. Don't overreact. Before making a decision I gather facts, weigh options, ponder possible outcomes, and generally make conservative decisions.
So I think I understand and appreciate DePauw’s caution in committing to anything controversial – let's run the idea by some committees, look at all options, talk with the lawyers, find out what our major donors think, see what other universities do, spend time pondering a decision and not proceed too quickly lest we make a mistake. I get it. I really do.
However, in the past several months the entire world has changed to be a much more scary and dangerous place, especially for DACA and undocumented members of our community. Now is not the time for being timid. Now is not the time to “wait and see what happens.” Now is the time for us to act boldly and decisively to protect everyone in our community. We need to be proactive, not reactive, and we need to let everyone know who we are and what we stand for; we must do what's right, not just what's easy or safe.
Last fall I participated in a Global Liberal Arts Alliance workshop where Margee Ensign, president of the American University of Nigeria, was a keynote speaker. In her address she described how her university gave refuge to escapees from the Boko Haram terrorist group, and how her university mobilized massive university resources to serve hundreds of thousands of meals to refugees fleeing Boko Haram; she potentially put herself and her university in the cross-hairs of this terrorist group, doing what was right, not what was necessarily safe. As I was listening to her speak, I wondered how DePauw would react in a similar situation – would we have the courage to do what was right, or would we merely do what was safe?
I have always considered myself to be a law-abiding citizen, someone who respects the rule of law; this is necessary for a civil society to function. However, I also realize that there are times when civil disobedience may be the only viable option to challenge unjust laws and effect necessary change to an unjust system. The Underground Railroad in the 1800's and civil rights activism in the 1960's come immediately to mind. In recent weeks and months I've been thinking about the possibility that I might be called upon to participate in civil disobedience, and though I hope and pray it doesn't come to this, I've been preparing myself for this possibility. I want to do what's right, not just what's easy or safe.
I truly believe DePauw must make a strong, forceful, and unambiguous statement supporting vulnerable and threatened members of our community. When we invite someone to join our community, I believe we make a commitment to them similar to marriage vows: we will have you in safety and vulnerability, when protected and exposed, when easy and risky; we have an obligation to protect members of our community. DACA and undocumented members of our community feel threatened and need much more than a website or committee to show them we're here to protect them. They want and need assurance that if things get real at 2 a.m. some morning, DePauw will be in solidarity with them and for them; they need to know that DePauw will have their back. We need to make a strong, concrete statement now that provides assurance that whatever happens, we'll be there for them. We must do what's right, not just what's easy or safe.
Doug is a Professor of Computer Science and the Bonner Scholar Faculty Advisor