My Fractured Campus

What is trust? I think that that is probably a difficult question to answer. But it seems to me to have something to do with deciding to assume the goodness of another. Deciding. To assume. Goodness.

A decision is not an emotion. It is not a momentary impulse, it is a commitment. It is saying, “I have weighed the options, and rejected this, in favor of this.” It’s a commitment.

An assumption is not something that is known. It is not something that is obvious, or even evident. It is formulated even before you come to a set of data. It is external to events or circumstances. It perhaps can be proved right or wrong, but for certain instances, the alpha value had better be extremely low.

Goodness, I hope, needs no explanation. It could be called the thing that is worthy of trust. Integrity. Virtue. Love. To trust is to decide to assume that a person is worthy of trust.

One thing I have learned, however, is that trust is not naive. The assumption of goodness can be made, but when the evidence causes us to change our decision, to decide to not trust, it is difficult to again decide to trust. When the assumption is impossible to believe, it is rejected. A new assumption then takes its place: the other is not good. Once this assumption is made, it takes immense effort to change it yet again.

Sometimes, though, trust does recover. How can this be? How can a new trust be created, when a previous trust has been violated? The answer is twofold. First, the one who is trusting must again decide to hold to the assumption of the goodness of the other. He must hope for restoration. Second, the one who is trusted must be trustworthy. If this does not happen, only forgiveness can be given. Trust is not naive, and true trust cannot be given to one who proves himself to be untrustworthy.

The history of racism throughout the world has violated trust at a deeper level than I will ever begin to comprehend. The past few years, my beloved campus has felt this violation of trust. Oh, has it felt it. But, I believe that trust can recover.

So, the leadership of this campus must again decide to trust. They must decide to assume the goodness of its students, of every student movement. They must decide this, despite the perceived evidence to the contrary. And the students must respond. The students must become trustworthy by being calm, by hoping for peace, and by persisting in understanding.

The students of this campus must again decide to trust. They must decide to assume the goodness of its leadership, of every leader. They must decide this, despite the perceived evidence to the contrary. And the leadership must respond. It must respond by being compassionate, by being quick to listen and slow to speak, and by acting on their wisdom.

Perhaps most importantly, the students must again decide to trust each other. When a brother is in pain, we work to understand so that we may heal. I must trust my minority sister. I must trust that her pain is legitimate. I must trust that I do not understand. She must trust me, the white, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender male. She must trust that I am listening. She must trust that I am with her, and though I do not understand, I am working to remove my lack of understanding. And we both must fulfill each other’s trust by making our hopes true.

In this way, the University and its students may unite to create a genuine Clemson Family. There will always be outsiders, but if they cause the leaders of the University and the leaders of the students to turn on each other, they have won.

Humility, forgiveness, patience, and perhaps eventually understanding. For these I pray.

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