President’s Office

President’s speeches, letters, and articles

Subject: Update from Reed College

September 21, 2020

Dear students, parents, faculty, and staff,

It was with a profound sense of gratitude and relief that I opened my front door this morning, looked up at the sky, and took in a deep breath of air. I also know that I am fortunate to be in this position and that there are others who may still be suffering and in harm's way.

The past couple of weeks have been a tumultuous time for Reed and for Portland, and they have highlighted the issues we continue to face as a community and as a nation. I want to take this opportunity to honor the strength and resilience that I have witnessed on campus—a level of commitment that continually lifts my spirits and gives me hope for the future.

Wildfires have raged through Oregon and the West Coast, destroying entire communities and damaging more than a million acres. Thousands of people were evacuated from outlying Portland suburbs, including several members of the Reed community. The smoke from these fires created a hazard in itself. For several days, Portland recorded the worst air quality of any major city. The smoke was so thick that the sky turned orange and we could barely see from one side of the Willamette River to the other.

At Reed, our Emergency Response Team swung into action. We canceled outdoor activities, curtailed campus operations, provided N95 and KN95 masks for students with underlying health conditions, and offered other types of support. A silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is that we had already installed high-quality MERV-13 filters, which are effective at filtering smoke, in many of our buildings. I was deeply touched by innumerable acts of kindness in our community, including the way people came together to assist one family that was temporarily evacuated to the Reed College Apartments. Nonetheless, the wildfires have been a wrenching experience for everyone. It is impossible not to contemplate the enormous damage that climate change is wreaking on our planet, and although we live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the orange sky proved that we are not immune.

Unfortunately, we are also not immune to systemic racism. Last week disturbing bias incidents that occurred on the Reed campus were reported. The most recent, reported on Sunday, September 13, involved a student who awoke to find graffiti in the form of racial epithets and homophobic slurs written on their door and on several surfaces in the common spaces of their floor in a Reed residence hall. The graffiti targeted both the student as an individual and the marginalized racial and sexuality groups to which the student belongs. This act of hate is painful and abhorrent. All over the world we are appropriately reckoning with our legacy of racism and prejudice. This is a time to look deep inside ourselves and at the world around us. We must resolve to do better. Over the summer, Dean for Institutional Diversity Mary James announced new initiatives to do the urgent work of creating a truly inclusive and welcoming campus climate. These efforts, and more to come, have my full and unwavering support.

I know many of you, like me, are grieving the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg was a hero of mine and a champion for so many causes—civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights—both as a lawyer and as a judge. Her life, her career, and her brilliant arguments are an enduring monument to the role of reason, debate, and dissent as bedrock values in a democracy and to the power of a committed leader to call attention to injustices and make the case for profound societal changes.

The loss of Justice Ginsburg brings me to my last subject: the importance of participating in our democracy. September 22 is National Voter Registration Day for US citizens. Never doubt the power of your vote. Thanks to the leadership of Alyssa Andrichik ’21, voter engagement coordinator in the student engagement office, Reed has put together some invaluable resources for students who need to register:

  • Voter information: Voter information is available on the Office for Student Engagement’s website. Check it out for information about voting in Oregon, voting by mail, general questions, and voter engagement efforts at Reed.
  • Oregon registration cards: Cards will be put in every student's mail stop this week for students who want to vote in Oregon and still need to register.
  • Free stamps and envelopes: The Office for Student Engagement is providing free stamps and envelopes in the mailroom for all voting purposes.
  • Ask your questions Zoom sessions: The Office for Student Engagement will provide guidance to students on the voting process at a National Voter Registration Day drop-in session on Tuesday, September 22, between 4 and 8 p.m. and at weekly drop-in sessions until election day. See the bottom of this page for details.

Wildfires, poor air quality, systemic racism, the election, Justice Ginsburg, COVID-19, climate change—right now it feels like life is throwing more at us than we can handle. Even as I contemplate these challenges, there are numerous things for which I am grateful. I am grateful for the resiliency of this community in the face of challenges. I am grateful to belong to a community of people who believe in the power of education and not the power of fear; who want to grow and think critically and not retreat into hardened points of view and prejudice; who know that art, science, reason, and inquiry make the world a better place; and who want to learn from one another. That is why we are here. And you are what gives me hope.

All my best,


Audrey Bilger