The following letter was distributed to the entire Sweet Briar community on Aug. 28.
To the Members of the Sweet Briar College Community,
Sometime between 8 and 10:30 this morning, four labels, made with a label-maker, were affixed to doors and the water cooler on the fourth floor of Meta Glass. As difficult as this is to believe, two of the labels read “White Only,” and two “Colored.” For someone who grew up in the deeply segregated South, those words recall to me a world of racial discrimination, disregard for human dignity, and institutionalized prejudice.
Until I received reports of this incident, I was still moved by the remarkable play, “In Sweet Remembrance,” that so many of us watched last night depicting a racially divided world view and attempts to mitigate the pain, anger, and hurt that a racially divided world engenders.
Sweet Briar College is dedicated to education, as well as inclusion and respect for others. I am of two minds at this time of this afternoon, so early in my stewardship of the presidency here. On one hand, the most negative: We have among us someone who is essentially bigoted and mean-spirited who would recall the Jim Crow days of separation, mirroring the apartheid of South Africa that summoned the calm voice of reason of Nelson Mandela to decry hatred and to seek to change one’s immediate environment for the better. On the other, perhaps more theoretically positive: Someone, moved by the play, sought to use the old, abusive words to remind us that while such terms were part of the historical past, some of the emotions lurking behind the words might still linger in a few.
Whatever the original intentions of the perpetrators of this assault on human dignity, my hope is that whoever is responsible will accept responsibility under the Honor Code that should govern all that we do on our campus, and that we may all move to an environment where difference is to be treasured and not to be the cause of abusive actions. We are investigating the incident and have been doing so for the past several hours. I hope any of you with information will contact one of us in the senior administration. I also hope that this very troubling matter will be the subject of discussion amongst us all about what kind of community we ideally should be and what each of us might do toward cultivating an inclusive environment.
Yours very truly,
James F. Jones Jr.