President Donald Trump continues to defend his position on blaming “many sides” to the violence that led to three deaths in Charlottesville.
On Tuesday, Trump reiterated his position to a crowd in Phoenix, Arizona, once again failing to condemn white supremacists, white nationalists and Neo-Nazis in a 77-minute assault on the English language.
Less than 12 hours later, Belmont President Dr. Robert Fisher gave a 20-minute speech promoting love, unity and the accomplishments of Belmont.
Trump — in his speech — deepened the divisive rhetoric that led to the violence in Charlottesville.
By equally assigning responsibility for the violence — mind you, no one from the left plowed a car through a crowd or killed anyone — Trump is doing two things. He’s putting protesters of hatred and bigotry on the same level as hatred and bigotry, and he’s further emboldening the groups that gained significant traction during the “us and them” rhetoric of his campaign.
Trump failed to unite the nation after a domestic terrorism attack — a crucial role for the president of the United States.
Let’s switch gears to President Fisher on Wednesday. In his state of the university speech he gave to faculty and students, he did what Trump could not or would not do.
“These are our enemies: hunger, sickness, spiritual emptiness — we’re opposed to those things,” Fisher said. “But even to the point, really, of today — ignorance, disrespect from anyone, hate, bigotry and prejudice. Those are our enemies.”
President Fisher’s speech came at a crucial time. A time when it is no longer acceptable to sit on the sidelines and let hate, bigotry and prejudice go unchallenged. A time when staying silent is no longer a viable option.
President Fisher — in arguably his biggest speech of the year — did not stay silent.
“I hope you — all of you — will join me in having the courage to speak the truth to these enemies. And the truth we need is found in aligning our spirits with God’s spirit, and demonstrating the love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control.”
His speech was poignant. Yes, it covered the necessary Vision 2020 updates and “state of the university” material, but it also called students, faculty and staff to rise to the occasion. To not sit on the sidelines. To “speak truth” to the enemies of Belmont: the hate, bigotry and prejudice that President Trump still refuses to recognize or condemn.
In the past few years, Belmont has walked that walk.
In June, the university received the inaugural Siloam Bridge Builder award recognizing its efforts to aid local immigrant and refugee communities. And last September, Belmont put its foot down hard, expelling freshman Justin Woodard after he posted a violent and racist Snapchat.
Fisher’s speech Wednesday morning sets the tone for how we — as a university — define ourselves during the Trump administration – a time when white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and bigots feel emboldened by their hatred.
It is during this time when true leadership is essential. Not just leadership in growing enrollment, building new buildings or even adding more practice rooms, but leadership in defining the voice of the campus.
Fisher proved he has the “competence” needed to lead.
He is the public voice of Belmont, and how we — as a university — stand in the Nashville community.
Our university president took a stand that our country’s president could not.
Photos courtesy of Sam Simpkins, the Belmont Office of Communications and Getty Images