To the Members of the Sweet Briar Community:
I met last evening alone at 7:30 with all the residents of Meta Glass Hall. When I returned to Sweet Briar House, I found a message from a student confessing by name to the incident last week. Dean Steele and I met privately with the student into the night. An hour ago, the following message to the entire College community was sent to me by the young woman. I quote the entire message as follows:
My name is unknown, yet my unscrupulous mistake is known by us all.
I’m a gentle person, yet I’ve outraged an entire community.
My intentions were good, yet I hurt the feelings of many.
It is not easy finding the words to apologize to so many, nor is it easy to convince people of the truth behind what I write. None of this came easy, but an apology is well deserved. In the past few days, I’ve dealt with nothing but unrelenting emotions and heartache, so I can only imagine what you feel.
I urge you to look deep within your heart and forgive me, but I know that it’s possibly too soon. As, I have stated before, ”While posting these extremely hurtful labels, I had one thing in mind. My mission was to show others that words can still have an extreme impact, and the past still resonates with us all. While moving forward, we can never really shake the past. The past is a part of us and we are a part of the past. While they did not necessarily know this before, we are all equal and nobody deserves to be treated unfairly. I was trying to make a point, but the point ended up “making me”…now everyone has ideas on what type of person that I am. I am none of these things….I am myself, I am caring and kind. I am the last person who would ever intentionally hurt someone else, but most of all, I am sorry!”
I do not deserve your forgiveness, for my actions were way out of line. While e-mailing President Jones, I felt inclined to share with him; “What happened today was very distasteful, and ignorant at the least. What happened today wasn’t out of any malicious intent, nor was it posted out of spite. What happened today…was because of me. I’m not sure anyone knows just how hurt I am. I am hurting along with everyone else, although my pain does not matter. I am hurting, because I now understand how much I have hurt everyone else around me. I do not think that it is funny, I do not think that it’s a joke at all. What I did was abhorrent. I don’t think that anything that comes from my mouth can make up for all of the hurt that I have caused.”
Nothing that I do or say, can change your opinions about any of this, but I would really like you all to know just how sorry I am. My heart goes out to each and every one of you, as you continue to move past this.
As I have learned over the course of my career, these sorts of events occur more often than one might think on American campuses large and small. Here at our College, our young friend attended the Wednesday performance of In Sweet Remembrance, was profoundly moved by the remarkable play, pondered the many difficult messages encased in the play itself, and Thursday morning, decided, if naïvely, to make a statement herself to remind herself and others that minorities carry burdens imposed by history upon their lives each and every day.
Schools are, at root, sites of learning, and as I have grown older inside the schools of my life, I have come to understand one simple truth: Students learn perhaps more outside our classrooms, laboratories, and libraries than they might be said to learn otherwise. Life’s biggest and most lasting lessons are indeed often learned by and from one’s surroundings. And thus it is with all of us today in the Sweet Briar family. What lies now before the College is how best to learn from the past several, difficult days on campus.
To that end, we are arranging to take advantage of the expertise offered the College from the Virginia Council for Inclusive Communities. We will be planning, with their help and guidance, to mount a series of open dialogues, for faculty, staff, and students, in the weeks to come to discuss, as members of one collegiate family, how to move our College forward to become the inclusive, respectful place of our highest aspirations. And I promise all of you that we will care for our perplexed, idealistic, young student friend as we should and as we must. Simultaneously, we have to find ways to care for the wounds the past several days have inflicted upon the soul of our school.
Thanks to so many of you, faculty, staff, and students, for your messages of encouragement and support these past several days. You have made me all the more proud to be the present steward of the presidency here at our College.
I will meet with faculty and staff today at 11:00 AM in Prothro and will schedule an open meeting with the students as soon as that can be arranged through Dean Steele’s office.
Yours very truly,
James F. Jones, Jr.