Ken Woodley ’79
News of the deplorable Election Night racial incident at Hampden-Sydney College was difficult to believe. No, I told myself, something this terrible could not possibly happen at H-SC, my alma mater.
But it did.
President Obama wins reelection and a large group of students gathers outside the Minority Student Union on fraternity circle, setting off fireworks, throwing bottles, some shouting racial epithets at the MSU men, and threatening them with physical violence, according to an email from H-SC president Dr. Christopher B. Howard to the Hampden-Sydney community.
That is not the Hampden-Sydney College that I know and for a very good reason. It is not Hampden-Sydney College. The actions of a small percentage of any group do not define the group. The actions perpetrated on Election Night defined the perpetrators. Each now faces the disciplinary consequences of their actions, but also the opportunity to re-write their definition in the weeks and years ahead of them. Let us hope they choose the path of personal redemption.
The College cannot and will not imagine it away, pretend it never happened. As much as one might prefer not reporting such news in hopes of helping it pass quickly, and perhaps unnoticed by many, responding forthrightly and effectively is the only genuine way forward. And that is what the H-SC family is in the process of doing, embracing a way to grow stronger and closer as a consequence of the Election Night incident.
A suggestion offered to the College by one of the alumni is creation of what would be called The November Brotherhood, a student organization, a kind of all-are-welcome “fraternity” that each year would pursue some project or event aimed at promoting racial understanding, reconciliation, and brotherhood on the Hampden-Sydney College campus. A goal that would be achieved, in no small way, simply by their joining together in the pursuit of such a healing outcome, the ripples of their fellowship reaching out through the campus.
The name—The November Brotherhood—is taken from the fact that Tuesday night’s incident took place in November, but the idea goes much deeper than that. November is the month of election—local, state and federal elections that require people to make choices: whether or not to participate at all and, if so, in support of what policy directions and for what reasons, and, importantly, to peacefully accept the choices made by others.
But November and its elections go even deeper than that, symbolically and literally. November is the month that the light we share in this world becomes smaller and darkness sprawls. November is the month that tilts us all away from the light and its warmth into the cold and dark until Daylight Saving Time returns in the spring.
The world, however, offers darkness in different forms, and cold takes other shapes than the simple movement of a season. Hatred, intolerance, racism and bigotry are steeped in darkness, riven with deep-freezing and their season can daily dominate the lives that give into them.
Each day we arise becomes Election Day. Every morning we face the choice of which path we elect to take—toward the light of understanding or the lightless abyss of intolerance.
Fortunately, light and warmth are not simply defined by the calendar, either. Light, too, takes different forms, warmth also adopting other shapes.
Our own form.
Our own shape.
The November Brotherhood would be founded on choosing light over darkness, and human warmth over callous inhuman cold. Founded on electing to share that light and warmth on the H-SC campus with one another, and from the H-SC campus into the world.
A world that also needs November Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods.
Much hangs in the balance.
There is darkness and light in each of us.
Warmth and cold, too.
We bring them with us wherever we go, onto a college campus, to work, into our smallest and greatest acts each day.
All of us face daily elections, not just the students at Hampden-Sydney College.
When we feel our season falling down, let’s hold on to the light, give birth to its ascendance and transcendence no matter what calendars, or other people, may say.
November is the month when it becomes clear that winter is next, no matter what.
But that’s only outside in the world of nature.
Inside, within the world of our human nature, flawed though it is, we are able to resist such seasonal inevitabilities and elect the season of our choice, becoming that season for ourselves and for everyone around us.
To choose well, to choose best, is our great responsibility.