The 2008–09 year began with triumph and fanfare as we celebrated a Tony Award-winning production on Broadway. As the year ended, we were shaken by the tragedy of the murder of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10. In these instances and throughout the rest of the year, I was inspired by the depth and energy of the extended Wesleyan community. In joy and in sadness, the Wes family members were there for one another. But ours is a community that is not only inward looking. We take the energy from our Wesleyan connection and put it to work in the public sphere.
I am confident that through the depth and energy of our community we will continue to build on the work that Johanna had already begun in her short life. In remembrance of Johanna, and with visions of the future, I’d like to point to three of the areas of public concern that her life and her death have brought to mind.
The first is health care, an area in which Johanna worked to improve prenatal services for poor women. There is a great battle brewing in Washington concerning how we will pay for and distribute health care in the future. The status quo is unacceptable. Too many of our neighbors are deprived of reasonable health services because of their inability to pay. Our current path promises excellent care for a shrinking percentage of the population, and no care at all for larger and larger numbers of people. We must change, and we will need ideas and energy to ensure that this is change for the better.
The second area where we need the help of an active alumni body is gun control. I know many regard this as a lost cause because of the passionate effectiveness of the NRA, but Johanna’s murder should remind us all of the idiocy of our handgun regulations. The status quo is unacceptable. With more than 30,000 people dying annually from gun violence in this country, and with more than 12,000 murders committed with guns, we need you to help us enter the world of nations governed by laws, not violence. Debates about the Second Amendment and about the glories of hunting need not stifle reasonable law aimed at reducing violent deaths.
The third area of public import brought to mind by Johanna’s life and death concerns violence against women. When I was an undergrad at Wesleyan 30 some-odd years ago, sexual harassment of students and of young women on the faculty was as common as beer parties. But women fought against these practices, and, sometimes aligned with men and transgendered people, made enormous strides toward greater equality. Around the country, however, violence against women remains a sad and frightening fact of life. The status quo is unacceptable. Too often rape goes unpunished; too often stalking is belittled until it explodes as it did here weeks ago. These are crimes of violence, and we need you to help us find ways of giving women the protection of law still too often used to preserve male privilege.
The status quo is unacceptable—that sentence would generate enthusiastic assent from generations of Wesleyan graduates. And the enthusiasm doesn’t have to be connected to any particular political party. We Wes alumni have used our education to change the course of culture because otherwise, people for whom creativity and change, freedom and equality, diversity and tolerance are much too threatening might shape the future. Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, Wesleyan alumni have shown an eagerness to work on issues of public import so that through education we can, as President Fisk said, serve the good of the world.