Monday, April 11, 2016

DePauw Dialogue 2.0

Last Wednesday, DePauw University hosted its second Day of Dialogue, in which the campus becomes the classroom and the entire community comes together to learn. I was honored to give welcome comments before the day's keynote speaker: the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington (whose incredible work you can see here and here, and which is transformative and powerful). In response to several requests which themselves do me honor, I provide my comments here. It's my first post since becoming Vice President for Academic Affairs, a position which does not lend itself to the kind of musings I was doing out here - but for this, for that day, for the joy and commitment of saying these words out loud to two thousand people, I am grateful for this space. Thanks for reading, and long live the liberal arts and their connection to social change.

Welcome to DePauw Dialogue 2.0

Thank you--All who participated in making this day happen---Please stand
·      Staff, Students, and Faculty who did the sub-committee work: structural, logistics, pre- and post-planning committee, advertising and mobilization
·      Facilitators who will guide our discussion groups this afternoon
·      Prepared for today: facilities, technical support, food services
·      Speakers/presenters for a breakout session

I stand before you today in partnership with the incredible members of our community who shaped this day. We have come together today – speakers, presidents, trustees, alums, students, staff, and faculty.

We have gathered here today to have conversations we have rarely allowed ourselves to have. Because, as a community, or as individuals, we were too busy, or we were too afraid, or it was too new, or it was too old, because we didn't know how, or because we knew only too well.

We are here to talk with each other. We are here to build our community by speaking across our differences.

We are at an incredible moment, one highlighted by professor Joe Heithaus at this year's Convocation when he read the work of the Syrian poet Adonis titled "The Beginning of Speech." We are at the beginning of speech.

We are like the character invited in the last three lines of Adonis's poem:
Child who once was, come forth—
What brings us together now,
and what do we have to say?

We are at the beginning of a conversation that starts over and over again - with each Convocation, with each first class day, with each introduction…

It's been 30 years since I was a college student. Some things are different and some aren't. Our nation is different; I see fear, anger, and a frustration I have never seen before:
-fear of change
-anger because of change
-anger because of not enough change
-frustration because of absences and silences when we need fullness and presence

The DePauw bubble is not - and should not be - protection from our society or our world--it is the place we address the world in our study, in our work, and in the lives we lead to transform the world – starting with our community as a community.

We are here to be intentional about engaging with one another- and with difference.

This is our day - we have dedicated this day to listen and learn differently.

We are giving each other this day to have conversations we can take back to our homes and our dorms and our classrooms, conversations that give forth to those same spaces of our lives. What comes out of those conversations is an opportunity to lead, and to lead from within this institution, this experiment filled with hope and energy for the world, this university.

The values of our liberal arts education shape this day:
-to create access to knowledge and each other
-to collaborate across difference
-to live in creativity fostered by curiosity
-to deepen and dignify the human experience in its interconnectedness with the world

-I deeply value this education because of its intensity, its seriousness of purpose, its difficulty, and its joy.
- I believe that it is the education that fulfills the promises of equity and opportunity of democracy
-I think that it produces strong leaders – the kind that change the world in all its complexity because they value a multitude of perspectives and experiences

To me, the leadership the emerges from conversation leads you
-to pursue knowledge and expertise
-and to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses
-but also the value of people and their contributions

We know this, right?
Leadership is not about having the highest GPA or having people report to you
We know that it's bigger than that.

That leadership is
-about recognizing that when you think you have looked wide, you look wider still.
-That it's about how well you motivate people to bring the best of their abilities
-That it’s about listening
-That it’s about valuing others and their unique experiences

I challenge each and everyone of you to be that person, to lead and step out of your comfort zone, not only today, but after today, and every time the conversation starts again.

We can only be at our very best when all of us have an opportunity to contribute.
The very best results come out of engaging in difference:
different experiences in different thoughts shaping different ideas.
To foster a culture that embraces difference we must value one another and our differences and our similarities. We must understand what we mean to each other.

When we are all valued and respected for the contributions that we provide and make to our community, then, yes, we let us say

We. Are. DePauw.