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Document Type

Reflection

Abstract

Dr. Fred Pestello is the president of Saint Louis University (SLU). He is Jesuit educated and has spent all of his over 30-year career in Catholic higher education as a faculty member, a vice president of an academic senate, a department chair, an associate dean, a provost, a senior vice president for educational affairs, and a president. His academic training is as a sociologist. Pestello was inaugurated as SLU’s first permanent lay president just ten days prior to the occupation of the campus by protestors and on the heels of a difficult period in SLU’s history. In August 2014, after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson and protests erupted, SLU held a vigil calling for peace and justice. At the vigil, Pestello called for dialogue and promised that in the fall, SLU would host scholarly fora where concerns such as poverty, violence, and racial disparity would be explored by members of the campus and greater St. Louis communities. An occupation of the campus is surely not what he had in mind, but that is what was to come.

Pestello’s reflection focuses not on the events of Occupy SLU, but on its aftermath. An agreement known as the Clock Tower Accords ended the occupation. Two weeks later, Pestello received a note of thanks from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The letter closed with the following statement: “Your leadership in a time of great difficulty has been nothing short of exemplary, and it provides an instructive model of inclusion and empowerment. I want to thank you, once again, for your dedication to peace. Our nation will continue to rely on you, and other principled leaders throughout the area, to help us reduce tensions, confront long-simmering conflicts, and to achieve lasting peace and justice for the people of St. Louis.” The Clock Tower Accords commit SLU to various efforts to advance diversity, inclusion, and educational and economic opportunity for people of color on campus and in St. Louis. Pestello’s reflection highlights progress towards these ends. It also admits challenges and failures, and calls for all of us to be inspired – by the spirit of those who occupied the campus – to work for justice.

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