A Divisive Election Provides a Unique Opportunity

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Dear campus community,

Last week was long and hard. Just how fractured we are as a nation and a society was evident as journalists shared voting results in real time, and Americans glued themselves to their preferred media outlets to watch the ever-shifting tallies. Someone somewhere remarked that Tuesday alone felt three-days long. And then on Saturday morning, the Associated Press and CNN called the election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Here in the city, where 86 percent of voters supported Biden and Harris, the celebrations were swift and strong, breaking out in neighborhoods across the city. Many celebrated, in particular, Kamala Harris’s success. The daughter of immigrants and a long-time resident of the Bay Area, her service as the first female, first Black and first South Asian vice president signaled opportunity and possibility—at a time when both seemed in retreat. For many here, it was a very good day.

For those of us in higher education, the feelings of relief and hope were equally swift and strong. President-elect Biden earned his undergraduate degree at a public university, and our future first lady is a faculty member dedicated to teaching. In addition to a renewed understanding of the value of higher education, we are hopeful that we will see support for international education and research; a resumption and expansion of DACA, including paths to citizenship for our undocumented students; restored support for scientific research and expertise; and a commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion education and action. And, of course, hope for a coordinated approach to containing the pandemic and federal economic aid for universities and states.

We should be hopeful, and we should celebrate in particular the election of a vice president who shattered several ceilings. We should also celebrate the efforts of many to drive participation in this important process to record levels. Our own Associated Students’ voter registration drive resulted in 1565 newly or reregistered students, a commendable achievement. Across this city and region, members of the University community worked on voter registration drives, participated in local campaigns, served as poll workers and took to the streets to protest and to celebrate. Democracy is alive and well at San Francisco State!  

As a University, I also urge us to pause and reflect as the election comes to a conclusion. What did we learn from this election and the years preceding it? We learned that democracy is fragile. We learned that vast numbers of Americans feel unheard and millions suffer daily from institutionalized racism. We learned that the fault lines in our society are deep and painful. We have learned that it is easy to demonize one another and really hard to listen and learn. We have learned that we have a lot of work to do.

Like many, I have been obsessively reading election postmortems. I was struck by the observation one New York Times columnist made predicting that the U.S. “simply cannot do anything ambitious anymore — like put a man on the moon — because ambitious things have to be done together.” We have so many ambitious goals which demand we work together: achieving economic and racial equity, immigration reform and environmental sustainability among them. But can we? As I look at our University community, I think the answer is a resounding yes!

I challenge us to think about how as an institution of higher education we can bridge divisions, bring an educational focus to issues and problems and encourage engaging in conversation with others even when we disagree, maybe especially then. We have a unique opportunity as an intellectual community. We should and must continue our activism and our active dissent, but we should also double down on our educational mission to educate toward common goals and the collective good. Let’s use this moment to leverage our resources not just for change but for unity.

It’s been a long semester. Many are tired. Almost all of us are stressed. This is especially true for our students. I urge us all to remain compassionate and patient. I have been so proud to serve as your president these few months. And, as we pause this week to honor Veterans on Wednesday, I remind all to be kind to themselves. Take time to acknowledge your accomplishments, small and large. Remember, good is good enough.


Lynn's Signature

Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D.