Dear Meritus Scholars,
First off, please let me introduce myself. My name is Jason Walthall and I am the Interim Executive Director of Meritus. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to help such a wonderful organization through this transition in its leadership. However, I wish I were writing at a more joyous moment for our community.
With Charlottesville still scarred in our memory, and large counter-protests taking place a stone’s throw from our San Francisco offices, I wanted to write to remind you of where Meritus stands and to encourage you to talk about these difficult times with friends, family and your surrounding community.
We at Meritus believe that preaching hatred and violence towards any group is despicable and cowardly. With the exception of Native people, we are all immigrants to this country and it took all of us – with our diverse heritages and cultures – to build our country. We believe America’s strength lies in its diversity and our celebration of the freedom to live our lives as we each see fit.
The fact we even have to remind ourselves of these core values is an indication of the disturbing times in which we live. Yet even though fringe groups, with their messages of hate and violence, have become emboldened and more visible, it is worth remembering that they do not represent the vast majority of Americans’ values. A small number of ugly racists can do damage. Nevertheless, I found it heartening to see the thousands of counter-protesters this past weekend, with messages of love, tolerance and non-violence.
Meritus is dedicated to reducing the barriers to a college education. We believe everyone has the right to develop their mind to its full potential. Racism and other forms of discrimination – whether explicit from the hate-filled speech of white supremacists, or more hidden in the form of a lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity – can be one of those barriers. I don’t have the magic answer to this complex and intractable problem, but acknowledging its existence and working hard to fight it is at least a start.
As we go through this difficult time, I urge you to talk about your feelings and reactions to your friends, family and trusted advisors, Meritus or otherwise. The worst thing we can do is bottle up our feelings and isolate ourselves from our community. You must decide what type of engagement feels comfortable. For some of you, this might be conversations with close friends. For others, talking it through with a parent, therapist or counselor might be right. For some, it might mean public protest. You decide – but please stay engaged. Being on a college campus is a good place to be. Each of you is part of a school community that wants to support you. There is a wealth of information – from libraries, to professors, to student clubs – where you can go not only to discuss your feelings, but to learn, grow and lead.
And, of course, each of you is part of the Meritus community that is ready to do whatever we can to help you conquer any obstacle that stands in your way.
As always, we are here for you. Please let us know anything we can do to help.