Optimism in Challenging Times


A message of optimism from President Elam as we look toward the Spring 2021 semester.

Dear Occidental Community,

As we prepare to return to classes next week, many in the Oxy community may have questions about the future of our democracy. Perhaps to some, school and studies may seem less urgent than current political events—and yet, at Occidental, our distinctive intellectual efforts to understand the world around us are a reminder of how deeply needed a liberal arts education is in this present historical moment.

The horrific events that transpired in Washington D.C. on January 6 and the continuing rhetoric and threats appearing in the headlines as we approach next week’s presidential inauguration  have challenged the strength of our democracy. The sight of armed invaders breaching the Capitol building and trampling the respected chambers of law and policy sent shock waves across the country and indeed the world. Among the most disturbing aspects of the attack on the Capitol were the harrowing representations of hatred and prejudice on display. Sadly, this blatant racism and bigotry flaunted views expressed again and again in our country’s history. In a recent essay, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker maintains that “the ideal of democracy is the greatest threat to the ideology of white supremacy.” I firmly believe Occidental is uniquely positioned to deliver on this ideal of democracy.

I see so much hope and optimism in the aspiration of Oxy to be the kind of learning environment and community of care that can help the nation live up to its ideals. One of our primary aims, after all, is to nurture, support, and develop informed, responsible, creative global citizens and leaders. With classes that emphasize discussion, discourse and inquiry, we provide the opportunity for the emergence of new perspectives, for productive analysis and respectful disagreement. Through such means as experiential learning programs, internships, and comps projects, we offer students the knowledge, experience and means to have real world impact. We want the education we provide to enable students to be full participants in the democratic process. An Oxy education has never been more valuable, applicable, and urgently important than now.

I look forward to working with you on this crucial enterprise and hope that the beginning of classes next week is a great success for all.

Very best,

President Elam