Three Gifts

In his exploration of the identity of Catholic colleges and universities, John C. Haughey, S.J., (Where is Knowing Going?), writes about three gifts of the Catholic intellectual tradition: faith that what we do matters and has a purpose greater than ourselves; hope "that sooner or later what one thinks, writes and teaches will make a difference in one's discipline and, in turn, to society," and love, the most "energizing element … love of the subject matter, love of students, love of those unseen folks who will benefit from one's work, and finally, love of the light that comes on every so often in the search for intelligibility." While we may all share the values Haughey expounds, we may have different approaches to living them. Our common pursuits, nonetheless, make us whole.

This past month has been filled with activities if not pursuits; of speakers, rallies and social events; of student and faculty presentations, workshops and meetings. Our Board of Trustees comes to campus this week, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) special visit team arrives shortly thereafter, at the end of the month. The flurry of activity has given new voice to some and revived old, sometimes open wounds for others. This time, however, the conversations have changed. Our WASC challenges gave us the opportunity to honestly acknowledge the work that we need to do to affirm our common pursuits and diverse approaches, and then to begin doing it.

We began last month with a visit from Eboo Patel, founder and director of the Interfaith Youth Core, who urged us to understand religious pluralism as "a form of proactive cooperation that affirms the identity of the constituent communities while emphasizing that the well-being of each and all depends on the health of the whole." We know that affirmation of identity is a foundational part of building inclusive community and is happening in places like the Campus of Difference workshops. At this time, 55 members of our community have participated in these workshops, and they will continue into next year and beyond. Though often affirming, discussions of identity can also make people feel vulnerable and awkward. As we expose and condemn hate, we sometimes have the unintended consequence of reviving the pain of hate and marginalization. Within the same week, I heard a gay student of color openly lament, "How do we know the institution has our backs?" and one of our regents say, "Why isn't our whole campus a 'Safe Zone?' " We will continue to work on the latter so that we achieve the former. At this time, more than ever, we need to continue the conversations and advance ways to create inclusive excellence.

Our conversations have also changed in public forums, in meetings, and perhaps in classrooms. The approval of an "External Speaker and Public Event Policy" by the Senate was perhaps less remarkable than the quality of staff and faculty discussion along the way, which was considerate, respectful, deliberate and thorough. The tenor of conversation was aided immensely by the leadership of Tom Poundstone. I have personally benefited from the willingness of faculty in the School of Science and School of Economics and Business Administration to engage in open and thoughtful conversation about the search processes for new deans. The deans' search committees, as well as the Academic Blueprint Task Force, should be fully constituted within the next two weeks.

A good friend of mine often says to me, "information comes to you at just the time you need it." As we begin a year of academic planning, one collection of comments from the beginning of the fall term continues to inform and inspire me. During the "All-Faculty" day, I asked participants to define our distinctiveness as a college without using the words "Catholic," "small," "liberal arts," "value-based," "personalized," or "residential." These words may help define us, but they don't make us distinctive. Some respondents provided variations such as "student-centered." The ones which struck me the most were those that answered with the word "love."

Our mission calls us to learn how to love everyone, learning from our differences in ways that can challenge our beliefs and broaden our understanding. I wonder if we, at Saint Mary's College, could become the best at this gift called "love."