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Five Years Later: “A Demonstration Update from the President”

Oct. 18, 2019

Dear Members of the SLU Community, 

Five years ago, on this day and at this time, I sent the attached message to the SLU Community with the subject line, “A Demonstration Update from the President.” My October 18th communication — a Saturday that year — shared “a peaceful outcome” that a few thought possible.

The six-days-long encampment and protest at the Clock Tower had been, “voluntarily and permanently removed by a group of SLU students and the other demonstrators.” 

“Now, the University must come together,” I wrote. “…[T]his extraordinary University [must] bring to bear its creative, intellectual and economic energy and help lead St. Louis to a better place.” 

As I look back, the events that transpired over those six days, and the tragedies which set the events in motion, four thoughts come to mind. 

  1. I remain in awe of how our faculty, staff, students, and clinicians responded to the heartbreak of the St. Louis African American community and the need to further address SLU’s shortcomings. 
  1. Our engagement with what came to be known as #OccupySLU remains one of the few examples in my recent memory of how our democracy ought to operate.

    People, of varying beliefs and ideologies engaged with one another, debated one another — sometimes fiercely. They listened and learned from one another. And they did so face to face — not only behind the walls of social media and email. Teach-in organizers actively managed the discourse to ensure humans treated each other as humans, with the dignity which we all deserve. 
  1. Our Jesuit values guided the University’s actions, not fear. I know that those six days changed who we are as a University community. And we are better for it. 
  1. Progress continues to be made on the “Clock Tower Accords,” which were signed at the end of the demonstration. And we know we have much more we must do to fulfill the letter of the Accords, especially for underrepresented minority students, particularly African Americans.

    Concurrently, the spirit of the Accords, along with our Catholic, Jesuit mission, compel us beyond what was written to work with the people of St. Louis to reimagine, transform and unify our city. 

As I said in the weeks following the occupation, “I thank each of you for your passion and commitment to SLU and our mission. These are times that will test us, but I believe we will grow stronger and closer as a community. I look forward to working with each of you to make that happen.” 

My commitment to working together to make SLU the most welcoming, inclusive, and equitable place holds, now, for the next five years, and beyond. 

Sincerely yours, 

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.