Towards a More Perfect Union

Tim Wise, anti-racism activist and writer, delivers this year’s Orrick Lecture.
On March 27, Thacher welcomed Tim Wise, an anti-racism activist and writer, to campus to deliver this year’s Orrick Lecture, entitled “Towards a More Perfect Union: Racial Justice and the Fallacy of Colorblindness.”

Tim Wise has spent the past 25 years speaking to audiences in all 50 states, on over 1,000 college and high school campuses, at hundreds of professional and academic conferences, and to community groups across the nation. He has also has trained corporate, government, law enforcement, and medical industry professionals on methods for dismantling racism in their institutions.

The William H. Orrick Lecture was established in 2005 in memory of former U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick, Jr. CdeP 1932, a longtime and loyal supporter of the School, with the goal of enhancing awareness of and facilitating discussion about the U.S. legal system, ethics, and public service.

During Mr. Wise’s engaging and enlightening talk, he spoke of the things in his life that had inspired him to dedicate his career to anti-racism work; the critical importance of understanding the sociological, legal, and structural origins of inequality and racism in the United States today; and how interrogating our own myths about who is able to succeed in this country and why can help us have a clearer understanding of the problems facing our nation.  

“Where we end up isn’t just about our hard work and our effort and what kind of people we are, it’s also about the breaks that certain people get and the breaks that other people don’t get,” he said to the gathered audience of students, faculty, and staff. “The way that certain people are perceived and the way that certain people are not perceived.”

Matt Balano, director of diversity and inclusion and assistant dean of students, said of the talk: “Tim Wise’s lecture was powerful, challenging, and enlightening. By using personal anecdotes, historical evidence, and data and statistics, he deftly differentiated interpersonal discrimination and systemic inequity.”

Mr. Balano added: “The majority of students embraced Tim’s message, while others were challenged by it. This is what we are seeking in our speakers. We aren't seeking universal agreement. We want thought-provoking leaders who push our students to deeply contemplate the pressing challenges of our time, to interrogate commonly held myths and stereotypes, and to question what it means to be in service to others. To a great extent, Tim Wise succeeded in doing this. For days following his talk, students were still energized and engaged in dialogue.”

Mr. Wise closed his talk by emphasizing the difference between feeling guilty and taking responsibility, saying: “When we get tired of living in the funk, we will clean it. Not because we are to blame for it, but because we’re the only ones left to do the job.”

Mr. Balano interpreted his statement in the following way: “He called us to recognize that, while none of us created “this mess,” it is nonetheless all our responsibility to be conscious, active agents of change if we hope to break down the barriers of divisiveness and continue on our path to creating a ‘more perfect union.’”

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Notice of nondiscriminatory policy as to students: The Thacher School admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other School-administered programs.