Ahead of the Curve

Dear Colleagues,

I just returned from a (WASC) conference in San Diego, where I had the chance to reconnect with friends from around the region. They, like so many others, have been following our news coverage and conversations. Of course, there were some of the expected queries about "what's really going on" at Saint Mary's College. More significant and telling, however, was their impression of our resilience, strength and willingness to take responsibility for our challenges. In some respects, we were "ahead of the curve" in our openness, and we will continue in that spirit as best we can.

Before heading out to that conference, I spent a full day with our Cabinet, faculty leadership and members of our campus diversity committee in a workshop devoted to diversity and inclusion. You will hear more about that from Brother Ron and me in the coming weeks. At that workshop, we discussed the external motivations for achieving diversity and inclusion, such as compliance with WASC and responding to changing demographics. As we turned to internal motivations, or reasons we all, internally, want Saint Mary's to become more inclusive, the list grew far longer.

We have turned a corner, not because someone told us we have to, but because we've shown that we want to. I've heard comments lately such as: "The dam has broken." "People seem to be smiling a lot more." Have you ever noticed how hard it is to smile when you're holding your breath? People are breathing again. And they're talking, creating possibilities for the future.

We have faculty who have renewed their commitment to students, through taking on new advising systems, launching an honors program, redesigning the core curriculum, and broadly engaging in campus conversations about defining and achieving our aspirations. We have staff, students, and alumni who have renewed their commitment to Saint Mary's and each other, in formal celebrations and casual conversations. We have administrators who are asking, "What can I do to make Saint Mary's better?"

We have had, and will continue to have, our setbacks along the way. I've heard strident criticism, but also generous expressions of encouragement, gratitude and support. Unfortunately, we have members of our community willing to make disparaging comments about others they perceive as different; callous comments which are often based on ignorance and false generalizations. As we increasingly embrace those who have been defined as different, we have to expect challenges to our "common sense" or "business as usual" ways of thinking and behaving. Sometimes these challenges will make those who have been comfortable become less so. We will acknowledge their discomfort, and we will move on.

One staff member recently wrote to me: "It seems that since you arrived it has been nothing but an adventure. I'm truly grateful that you are working with us…." I am similarly grateful to be working with all of you, too. Keep breathing, keep doing what you do best, and keep smiling as we continue in this shared adventure.