back to news Jan. 7, 2021

A message from Dean Ritter: Responding to the events at our nation's Capitol

On Jan. 7, 2021, Executive Dean and Vice Provost Gretchen Ritter sent the following message to Arts and Sciences students, faculty and staff in response to events at our nation's Capitol.

Dear Arts and Sciences students, faculty and staff,
Our democracy has been deeply challenged.

As someone who thinks that the Lincoln Memorial is a civic shrine that symbolizes the core values of our democracy;

As someone who celebrates the Fourth of July by asking friends and family to reread and consider our founding documents as well as the subsequent calls to democratic inclusion that echo those founding documents (like the “Declaration of Sentiments” or the “I Have a Dream” speech);

As someone who believes in the promise (often imperfect, often unrealized) of the American Dream;

As someone who so deeply appreciates the American spirit of optimism and possibility;

As someone who celebrates the many American patriots who led movements to perfect our democracy over the generations – like Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barbara Jordan – and so many others;

As someone who has spent my adult life encouraging students to be informed, get involved and learn from each other – whatever their political persuasions . . .

I felt heartbroken yesterday watching the images of rioters storming the Capitol, threatening our elected representatives and trying to thwart the peaceful transfer of power.

For nearly 250 years, as a country, we have embraced the sacred principle of peaceful transfer of power. The events leading up to yesterday were many years in the making. The long path to yesterday’s events is marked by deepening levels of political polarization, rising rates of hate crimes and incidents of domestic terrorism, growth in white nationalist organizations, the explosion of disinformation on social media, and an erosion of trust in public institutions. As Senator Mitch McConnell said yesterday, “We cannot keep drifting apart into two tribes with a separate set of facts and separate realities, with nothing in common except our hostility towards each other and mistrust for the national institutions that we all still share.” Addressing these injuries requires that we commit ourselves not only to the rule of law but also to constitutional values and principles that require generosity, compromise, a commitment to process regardless of the outcome – and a commitment to TRUTH. If we are to restore, preserve and strengthen our democracy, we must take action together to heal and repair what has been so grievously wounded.

I am heartened by all of the public figures and elected representatives of all political persuasions who spoke out strongly and clearly against the insurrection and the role that some of our national leaders played in fueling the mob. Our political leaders, as caretakers of our democracy, need to be held accountable when they disregard their commitment to the democratic process and the American constitution. Still, I am gratified and relieved that there are signs of renewed commitment to democratic norms and principles across the political divide.

Why does all of this matter to the students, staff and faculty of our college? Great universities are at their heart optimistic and forward-looking places. They are full of problem solvers, creators and critical thinkers willing to give serious consideration to unpopular ideas and to imagining a better future. We need that spirit at this moment of transition. Because if healing and renewal are to be fully realized, we will need to build the capacity and will for that here.

Ohio State’s motto, after all, is Disciplina in civitatem – “Education for Citizenship.” We must commit ourselves to being informed, to openly listening to and considering a variety of points of view, to being able to discern the difference between truth and fiction, and by always, always searching for common ground, shared principles and a commitment to a future which provides opportunity and justice for all of us.

We have so much to do – there is a pandemic to tame, an economy to strengthen, so many social and racial injustices to address, and many other societal challenges to resolve collaboratively. We will do this through what we do so well – through the incredible faculty and students who daily join together in the discovery of knowledge, the pursuit of learning and a commitment to civic dialogue for the betterment of our society.

Next week we begin again. The semester will start in a tumultuous and trying moment for our campus and our country. With the inauguration less than two weeks off, there may be other challenges on the national scene that will impact conversations in our offices and classrooms. We need time and space to process, analyze and confront all that is happening in the world around us and all that happened in Washington yesterday. We need to think and act together, to understand and address these challenges, and to seek ways to contribute to a constructive future. As we do that, let us also recommit ourselves to shared civic principles and the pursuit of truth, even when it is uncomfortable and difficult.

Best wishes,

Gretchen Ritter
Executive Dean and Vice Provost
Professor of Political Science