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Two days after my blog post about the University of St. Thomas’ controversial decision to bar Archbishop Desmond Tutu from a speaking engagement on campus, a letter was sent to students, faculty, and staff on behalf of university president Father Dennis Dease. Not only did Dease reverse the decision, but he also personally and publicly apologized:
One of the strengths of a university is the opportunity that it provides to speak freely and to be open to other points of view on a wide variety of issues. And, I might add, to change our minds…. I have wrestled with what is the right thing to do in this situation, and I have concluded that I made the wrong decision earlier this year not to invite the archbishop. Although well-intentioned, I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do.
I believe Father Dease’s words come from the heart, and I commend him for doing the right thing. Words are powerful, whether we use them to express our beliefs or voice our dissent. For example, Jewish Voice for Peace organized nationwide to send 2,700 letters in protest of the university’s initial decision. Eighteen law school faculty members wrote a letter asking Tutu to be invited again, and St. Thomas’ Students for Justice and Peace coordinated students and staff to take action. Social justice organizing work can be isolating, tedious, and frustrating without measurable results. But in cases like this, where the action is clear and the message is unified, our efforts can lead to victory.
Allison Johnson is the policy and organizing assistant for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.