The nationally recognized liberal arts institution Hillsdale College has a history of defying political pressure in order to uphold what is good and true. Its recent refusal to give in to the demands of those who think a public statement is necessary to fight social injustice is just the most recent example.
Some of the college’s alumni publicly pushed their alma mater to comment on the recent controversies regarding the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests and riots. When a petition began circulating calling on the college to release a statement, arguing that its “silence” supported violence, the college responded in an open letter.
“The College is pressed to speak. It is told that saying what it always has said is insufficient. Instead, it must decry racism and the mistreatment of Black Americans in particular. This, however, is precisely what the College has always said,” the letter says.
The letter signed by the college’s administration argues the institution’s steadfast devotion to fighting for the truth that all men are created equal is proven by its actions rather than empty words. Hillsdale was founded by abolitionists in 1844 and has, since its inception, pledged to educate all students, “irrespective of nation, color, or sex.” Such strong anti-discrimination practices were viewed as fiercely radical at the time, and made Hillsdale among the first in the nation to grant education to black Americans and the second in the nation to provide four-year liberal arts degrees to women.
This education produced students who care about the dignity and equality of all people. When the Civil War broke out, a higher percentage of Hillsdale students enlisted to fight for the Union than from any other college. It stood as an anti-slavery symbol during this time, such that the revered abolitionist Frederick Douglass came to deliver a speech on campus.
“The College founding is a statement — as is each reiteration and reminder of its meaning and necessity. The curriculum is a statement, especially in its faithful presentation of the College’s founding mission. Teaching is a statement, especially as it takes up — with vigor — the evils we are alleged to ignore, evils like murder, brutality, injustice, destruction of person or property, and passionate irrationality” the administration writes in the letter. “… And all of these statements are acts, deeds that speak, undertaken and perpetuated now, every day, all the time. Everything the College does, though its work is not that of an activist or agitator, is for the moral and intellectual uplift of all.”
Businesses who publish a few sentences on their website declaring their support for a cause do little substantive work for that cause. Nearly every U.S. company has printed these statements in fear of retaliation from certain groups and an effort to protect themselves and their future earnings. Hillsdale addressed this in the letter: “But the fact that very real racial problems are now being cynically exploited for profit, gain, and public favor by some organizations and people is impossible to overlook.”
Hillsdale doesn’t need to string a few words together to show its dedication to equality. Its actions speak for itself.
The college’s commitment to its principles has never wavered. In the 1970s when the federal government attempted to require the college to discriminate against potential students based on their race, the college refused. This meant the loss of all federal funding to its students as well as the institution. Hillsdale has instead generated private funding to continue its mission.
The college operates today as it always has, educating another generation of students to aspire to the great principles animating the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. Statues of Douglass and Abraham Lincoln adorn campus as students study, reminding them of the virtues the college upholds.
While other companies are busy regurgitating statements capturing whatever ideas are trendy at the time, Hillsdale is busy fulfilling the same mission they set forth 176 years ago.