Lessons from the Past Inform the Future

Alumni Outlook: Grads Weigh In

The Davidson Community more than ever has shown itself to be beyond the scope of the 1,800+ students currently enrolled in classes at the college. The outpouring of support, concern, and activism from the college’s alumni body has made these voices of Davidson students “past” very much part of the present dialogue regarding white nationalism on campus and the administration’s resulting response. In this week’s edition of Et Cetera, we have included two personal essays from alumni Evan Yi 18’ and  Dr. Christopher Marsicano ‘10 in print. However, more personal essays will be featured online later this week, and we encourage giving them equal attention.

Dr. Christopher Marsicano ‘10

When I was asked to write a reflection for the Davidsonian from the perspective an alumnus, I thought long and hard about how to approach the topic. I knew that I needed to express to the student body the extent to which alumni all over the world stand with you. In the hours following last Wednesday’s events, I received phone calls and messages from scores of people all wanting to know how they could help current students. They reminded me of another point I think it is important for an alumnus to make – Davidson has been through this before, and become stronger and more resilient as a result. In the wake of previous crises, students challenged Davidson to become a better place – and they succeeded. 

The events of the past week are not the first time Davidson students have faced racial and anti-Semitic hatred. In 1986, the KKK announced a decision to march down Main Street in downtown Davidson during the Admission Office’s annual minority student recruitment event.  Davidson students, understandably appalled at the prospect of a parade of white hoods in their community initially planned to hold a counter protest. However, student leadership quickly recognized that to do so would only embolden the KKK further. So, they did what Davidson students do – they creatively and critically came up with a way to address the evils of racism while also taking away all the power they could from the Klan. The SGA and Union Board organized a community celebration on Patterson Court. They convinced local restaurants and store fronts on Main Street to close down for the day and join in the celebration. When the KKK marched down Main Street, there were more police officers than spectators; the whole town was down on Patterson Court. The power of hate groups is the spectacle they create and fear that they instill in the people they hate. That day, no one watched the parade, no one was afraid. That day Davidson students spoke up in one loud voice, saying “hatred has no place on this campus; not today, not ever.”

When I was a student in the middle 2000s, two events in quick succession again challenged the students’ conception of what it means to be a member of the Davidson community. A very small group of students paraded around Patterson Court carrying a Confederate flag. Shortly thereafter, African-American students from another university who were on campus for a step competition were asked to leave a court party because they made a small number of white students “feel uncomfortable.” Davidson students again rose up to reject hatred and bigotry. Student leaders printed t-shirts that said “Do I make you feel uncomfortable?” Students of all backgrounds purchased the shirts in an act of solidarity. Student leaders held a rally outside of the Union, refusing to bow down in the face of pressure. Again students told the world, “hatred has no place on this campus; not today, not ever.”

The events of this past week yet again show the indefatigable nature of Davidson students’ commitment to the rejection of fear. Again students organized. Again student leaders did what Davidson students do best – they thoughtfully and critically addressed difficult issues. When I asked students in my class to reflect on this experience, one senior said, “I’m just trying to finish up here, so that I can go help people.” Davidson students help people. What makes Davidson unique is not the fact that racism and hatred occasionally rear their ugly heads on this campus, but that whenever they do, Davidson students uniformly push back in pursuit of justice.

That Wildcat focus on doing good in the world doesn’t end at graduation. One of the students who was on campus in the year of the KKK rally, Frank Lord ‘89, is now an attorney in New York. He specializes in recovering works of art stolen by the Nazis for the families of Holocaust survivors. The champion of the “do I make you feel uncomfortable” movement, David Dennis ‘08, is now a journalist and lecturer at Morehouse College who has written for The Atlantic and The Guardianon topics related to Black culture and restorative and social justice. John Davis ‘81 is an Assistant U.S. Attorney who oversaw the US office in support of the Iraq War Crimes Tribunal in Baghdad, investigated the Atlanta Olympic Park Bombing, and led the prosecution of four Al-Qaeda members for the 9/11 terror attacks. Over 160 Davidson alums lost their lives in service to their country while fighting against the Nazis in World War II. These alums have all declared, “hatred has no place in the world we want to build; not today, not ever.”

So often after crises die down, students want to know how to continue the fight against discrimination. The answer is simple – keep moving forward and uphold the values of Davidson College. If the alumni I’ve mentioned can keep fighting the good fight after graduation, so can you. I am exceptionally proud to be a Davidson alum because Davidson students never give up and never shy away from a just fight. Never forget: It is your leadership and resiliency that inspires all of us. 

For the good of this place, go change the world. Not just today, but forever.

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