We Must Listen and Learn

June 2, 2020


Dear Students of SMPA,

In these past tumultuous days, we have seen a black man murdered, massive protests sweep the country, terrible violence, and the threat of military force. We have seen people of all backgrounds protest in outrage because people of color have been denied too long the equality others take for granted. 

I write to you because our nation is in pain and peril. We have witnessed yet again the suffering, indignities, and inequality that wound us as a culture and divide us as a country.  We wonder what we can do about it, how we can affect meaningful change, whether we can ever bring about a genuinely just, decent, multi-cultural society built on true equality and respect. We search for leadership that unites and yearn for empathy that can heal. 

To our black students, staff, and faculty, we as a community stand in solidarity with you. We are here to support you and your families during these extremely difficult times. 

With so much suffering and injustice in plain sight, it is tempting to lose hope or explode in anger.  We cannot afford to do either of those things.

You came to SMPA to study journalism and political communication, to be in the nation’s capital where debates, decisions, and yes, division play themselves out.  You came here not to do the easy stuff, but to tackle the vexing issues that have coursed through America’s veins since it was born as an imperfect nation. You came here to be challenged and to meet people whose experiences and ideas are different from your own. You came to make a difference.

Your studies equip you to be witness to history and to bend it even when it seems brittle and ready to break. Both journalism and political communication take on the complicated problems we confront.  Journalism done well shines a light on injustice and challenges the public to see problems others would prefer to hide.  Political communication done ethically helps leaders advocate for causes that they believe can advance society.  

This moment leaves no room for complacency.  We can take nothing for granted. Every one of us must decide what we will do and how we will act.  I encourage you to engage, to vote, to use the skills you already have, and reach out to your mayors and local officials, governors, senators, and members of congress. Tell your story and advocate for what you believe. 

We face unprecedented challenges. But we must have the resolve to take this country to a place of deeper understanding and positive change. The courage to do that must be accompanied by the humility to acknowledge what we don’t know, the determination to listen and learn, and the empathy to truly understand by honoring our differences and diversity. These are our values. 

At SMPA we speak about ourselves as a community.  That is our strength and our commitment. We must not avert our eyes from these troubled times. But we must also focus on the change we need and the future we desire. 

We are here for you. And we are with you. 

Frank Sesno

Director, SMPA