After his arrest in 1963 for participating in an antisegregationist, nonviolent protest, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed his critics, noting:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
Over 50 years since his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King’s wisdom resonates with us today. As the United States recognizes the extraordinary leadership, deep humanity, and commitment to confronting injustice embodied by Dr. King and his work with today’s national holiday, I continue to be inspired by the call to action in his admonition. As the SAIC community, let us rededicate ourselves to overcoming all forms of oppression and lead by example for the city we study in, the countries we come from, the peoples we are, and the culture—inclusive and dynamic, contentious yet collegial—that ought to be.
As artists, designers, and scholars, we feel the power of Dr. King’s compelling cry for dignity and his fearless spirit and determination in the face of systemic racism. SAIC is a community that stands firm in support of a just and inclusive society, which strives to empower all students, faculty, and staff. We reject all forms of intolerance and hatred, and strive to create a community inclusive of all people, regardless of race, national background, citizenship, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or any other difference. All of us—students, faculty, and staff—are involved in the project of education, so we also champion academic freedom, allowing our art, design, and scholarship to forge new, sometimes shocking, ways of understanding and knowledge through rigorous practice and critique. Our community is neither frictionless nor perfect; there is disagreement and disappointment. But still we make this world together, as it is only together that we can make the world that ought to be. As Dr. King instructs us, we exist interdependently.
During his 1965 commencement address at Oberlin College, Dr. King built upon the ideas of his previous letter:
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be—this is the interrelated structure of reality.
As we face uncertain and troubling times, I believe it is very clear how much our personal liberty depends on the liberty of our neighbors. To commemorate Dr. King, we should pledge, again, to make SAIC community an increasingly inclusive place for everyone: a school in which our differences create strength, our artmaking and scholarship embrace diversity, and our achievements help effect positive change throughout SAIC and beyond. Together, and only together, will we become who we ought to be.