Dear Salem Community,
I cast my first vote in a presidential election in 1976 while attending college and living in North Carolina. I cast my most recent vote several weeks ago—on an absentee ballot filled out in the historic Boner House (c. 1844) in Old Salem and mailed to the county in upstate New York where Susan B. Anthony was arrested (and fined) for voting in the mid-19th century. In both cases, I did so because voting matters.
As I noted in an opinion piece published in August in the Winston Salem Journal, I had no idea in 1976 of the history of the struggle in the 19th century and across the 20th century to obtain, retain, and expand the right to vote. The struggle included the push for the 19th Amendment and movements to “allow” Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans the right to vote. The struggle continues.
That’s why, some time ago, I signed the Campus Democracy Challenge urging those of us who have the right to vote to exercise that right this year and every year. It is why I support those of you who have reminded us over and over again—through programming and clubs, history and political science courses, and more—of the many reasons why voting is critical, especially but not only this year.
I recently read a terrific book by Martha Jones called “Vanguard” subtitled “How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.” In the book, Jones weaves her own history together with the history of many, many women who worked toward inclusion in voting rights. She also asks: “When our descendants look back to us, what kind of ancestors do we want to be?”
My answer (among other answers) is: I want to be an ancestor who voted and who continues the work of expanding and ensuring the right to vote. I also want to be an ancestor who values civility—but also values critical thinking and action connected to deep thinking about the world in which we live and which we aspire to co-create.
That is why I’m writing today to remind us to vote and to ask, “what kind of ancestor do you want to be?” As you navigate this polarized society during a time of tremendous uncertainty, I hope that you will remember and lean into our values “Pursuit of Excellence,” “Community,” and “Responsibility to Self and the World.”
You are not alone. Members of the Salem Community stand ready to offer their support. Please do not hesitate to contact Academy Counselor Mary Margaret Johnson (email@example.com) if you are an Academy student, College Director of Counseling Services Robin Campbell (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are a College student, or Director of Human Resources and Benefits Emily Young (email@example.com) if you are an Academy or College faculty or staff member for the resources that you may need to deal with these challenging times.
Always—but especially in coming days—I ask you as a valued member of the Salem Community to express your opinions through civil discourse even when we disagree and even if you cannot vote due to age or for another reason. I firmly believe in an open and healthy democratic society with freedom of speech, but to do so and remain proud members of the Salem Community, we must practice civil discourse rooted in abundant kindness and thoughtfulness toward each other.
Thank you. And please, above all else, stay safe and healthy!