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Democracy and the events of January 6, 2021

DEPARTMENT(S): 
January 7, 2021

This message was sent to the WPI Community.

Yesterday’s attack on the U.S. Capitol was stunning and tragic. It is difficult to process. I know I’m struggling with it, and I imagine many of you are as well. On top of dealing with a raging pandemic and continuing racial and social inequities, that our democracy would be so tangibly threatened may feel almost too much to bear. What ignited yesterday was the result of a flame stoked for too long by those who should have extinguished it long before. Instead, in the seat of our republic, it burned out of control. This is unacceptable, and I condemn this attack on our democracy.

It’s important that we acknowledge and process the range of our emotions at this very challenging time. Please do reach out to one another and create space for reflection and support.

When I worked in Washington, I frequently walked the hallowed halls of the Capitol where I proudly witnessed a deep and shared respect for our democracy and its ideals. Yesterday, those ideals were violated. I wish I could say I was shocked, but it’s been clear for some time now that the fabric of our democracy is fraying. Yesterday’s action burned a hole in that fabric.

I believe we can help our nation to repair and rebuild our strength and resolve to move forward in line with our values of mutual respect and civil discourse based on facts and evidence. As a purpose-driven STEM institution, we have an especially critical role, because technology has been part of the problem.

Social media, invented to connect us, is being abused by those who seek to amplify misinformation, stoke hate, and create division. As a science and technology institution that educates future leaders, we must embrace our role in helping students learn not only the fundamental methods for creating new technology, but also to understand and consider the potential harm to individuals and institutions that people can do when technology is misused. Ethics are an important part of the WPI ethos, and we must continue to help our students understand that considering such possibilities is a part of the design and innovation process. Appreciating both the promise and the dangers of technological solutions based on how they are designed, implemented, and used is perhaps our most important contribution to the future of the nation in this moment in time.

After all the chaos yesterday, the Congress did its job—as we must do ours. The work ahead will be difficult, requiring diligence and integrating holistic perspectives, as we emerge from the pandemic and confront the most significant challenges of modern society. But the WPI community is comprised of brilliant people who care deeply about humanity.  There is no group of people I would rather tackle these challenges with than you. So, let’s come together and make a positive difference – let’s be light in the face of darkness. Be kind to yourselves and one another.

Respectfully,

-Laurie