[Early evening yesterday, I was leaving school and decided to walk my dog on the outskirts of campus. There was a group of young black men having a lively conversation nearby. About what you ask? It’s 16th August, 2017 and Charlottesville and University of Virginia is on everyone’s mind. I chose to ear-hustle. Their feelings about white nationalism, white separatist groups and aligned sympathizers were a mixture of anger, disgust, indifference and anxiety. With reflective calm, one asked, “Dog, what if I find myself sitting next to one of them in class though? Like think about about.” There was perhaps a split second of silence and then a barrage of responses from the others that I couldn’t quite make out. I walked on after that. But I haven’t been able to get that question out of my head, because if you are a college student in the United States of America right now, how do you not ask?].

Have you asked yourself that question? —

Dear College Students,

My first hope is that every college campus has a strategy to address the safety of all their students in case there is a clash of white nationalists and others on campus. As there should be strategy for any crisis. However, this is unique. Students, ask your administrators now – What’s the plan?

Many people I know are choosing not to think about what’s going on (sometimes I am in that group). To ignore it, and perhaps white nationalists will quiet themselves down and simply go away. To us, I remind of Edmund Burke’s letter to Thomas Mercer. Found in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents: Two Speeches on America (82-83, 1770 in: Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol 1, p. 146) – Liberty Fund ed 1999. It features this often used quote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Back to that Question —

I don’t really believe there are any bulletproof answers, but may I suggest the following: as jarring as it is to consider, actually think about it. If indeed a white nationalist is sitting in your class and a moment arises where s/he feels emboldened to lash bigoted, racist, hateful or intolerant notions at you, be prepared for your own reaction. Most importantly prepare yourself not to respond in kind. The only way to remotely guarantee that is to have thought about it. Really visualize it occurring and then visualize your response.

We are living in interesting times. One that requires all good people not to be indifferent, but to act. May your fall 2017 semester be safe. I hope that your college experience starts and continues to be one that fosters exploration, engagement, understanding and tolerance.