A Call for Reflection, Understanding, and Action

The below message was sent to the Cooper Community on Monday, June 1, 2020

Last week, we celebrated our graduates as they enter this next phase of their lives. It was joyful and meaningful. We joined in friendship and camaraderie over the common bond we share – The Cooper Union.

That celebration rose amidst a darkness and a history we cannot seem to reconcile. The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor once again put front and center our country’s deep legacy of structural racism; the bias – some unconscious, some deliberate – that permeates our daily lives; and the fear with which Black and Brown Americans are forced to live on a daily basis. These killings are outrageous. The pain is immeasurable. And all amidst a pandemic that reinforces the deep disparities in access to health, education, economic opportunity, life. The systemic issues that brought us here are unacceptable. It is imperative that we honor the lives we have lost while pledging, individually and collectively, to work towards justice. That work begins with self-reflection, with a recognition of the accountability each of us has in righting the wrongs of our past, and with a deeper understanding of each other that can move us to a brighter future.

From the founding of our country, freedoms for some were built through the oppression of others. Our country’s enslavement of Black people and occupation of Native American land has, from the beginning, defined our nation as an inherent contradiction that we live out to this day. Despite that history, the resilience of people of color and those who have worked together in solidarity have advanced freedoms for all, in spite of persistent, systemic and structural barriers. This must be the work of all of us, and we must start at home.

Civil Rights Movement leader Congressman John Lewis spoke powerfully about this in our Great Hall three years ago.  As he said, “we need to build bridges… bridges of understanding.  In the final analysis, we are one family. We’re one people. We all live in the same house, not just an American house but a world house.  As Dr. King put it, we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters.  If not, we’ll perish….” I ask the entire Cooper community to act on this message and to spread it both within and beyond our walls.

Today, I ask you to join me in identifying the concrete steps that each of us will take to better understand somebody else’s lived experience; to fight for an educational system and an economic system that makes opportunity accessible to all; to make The Cooper Union, New York City and our country safer, kinder, and more loving places for everyone.

I am proud to be part of this community of activists. Whether through art, science, participation in organized public protest, our votes – let us use our voices, self-reflect, hold each other accountable and act to advance justice, humanity and peace. I invite you to join in community this evening at 5pm. Please visit here for more details. Let us come together – to mourn, to reflect, to understand, to act.

In solidarity,

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.