Jan. 13, 2021

Dear Colleagues:

Yesterday, in Washington, DC, forces loyal to President Donald J. Trump stormed the most solemn hall of our democracy, the Capitol. This act was a textbook definition of insurrection and domestic terrorism. At the time, most of us were deliberately working to advance higher education in Massachusetts and slowly began to internalize the images that were coming from the District of Columbia. If you were like me, your initial reaction was apprehension and, increasingly, horror and disgust.

Some of you have relatively recent immigrant backgrounds. And some of you may come from societies where insurrections and political violence are, unfortunately, commonplace. Many immigrants arrive on our shores precisely to escape this kind of indiscriminate violence. And yet, communities of color have always experienced unequal treatment in this country. It has not gone unnoticed that the reactions of security personnel yesterday, compared to the reactions of security personnel in the Black Lives Matter protests of this summer, were quite disparate. Many of us have had the difficult task of explaining to our children and grandchildren that protesters’ disparate treatment was another example of the systemic racism that minoritized populations in this country have experienced.

I write to you the day after to affirm, more than ever before, that our efforts in higher education serve to uphold our democratic values by promoting a just and equitable educational experience–a foundation of a stable democracy. A democratic people can only rule themselves if civic engagement is supported by providing voice, collaboration, shared respect for facts and analysis, and full participation.

Those of us in the MA Department of Higher Education engage in our work precisely because we feel that higher education is a path for students to enrich their lives and their families and community, that higher education is a public good that prepares students to build a more just society. While this is our belief and hope, advanced degrees are not a singular guarantee of a well-functioning democratic society, as this latest experience has shown. But we need to continually stress that advancing opportunities and possibilities for student success are essential to our civil society. The events of yesterday only further confirm that the Department’s focus on equity remains an essential goal.

Carlos E. Santiago
Commissioner of Higher Education for Massachusetts