Free Speech and Inclusion

Now that the academic year is underway, I am often asked about how Wesleyan handles controversy – from government policies that affect higher ed to campus speakers who take unpopular positions. Sometimes those positions, in addition to being unpopular, incite action that can harm individuals or groups. What to do?

Wesleyan students, faculty and administrators alike have made clear their commitment to making our campus inclusive, and that commitment starts with wanting people to feel free and safe. That said, the imperatives of freedom and safety are sometimes in conflict. For everyone to have equal access to our educational resources, the campus must be without violence and intimidation; at the same time a campus without challenge would be anti-educational. Although it is crucial to pay attention so as to eliminate subtle forms of harassment, we must also be vigilant in respecting broad rights to speak freely. Beware of those who offer protection! Historically marginalized groups have the most to lose when authorities limit freedom of expression in the name of civility, safety or security. We must not protect ourselves from disagreement; we must be open to being offended for the sake of learning, and we must be willing to risk giving offense for the sake of creating new opportunities for thinking.

At campuses like Middlebury, Claremont McKenna and UC Berkeley, we’ve seen incidents in which protestors shut down a speaker whose views they found anathema. At Wesleyan, we recognize the rights of protestors; at the same time, we ensure that those invited to speak on our campus get a hearing. This usually proceeds without problems because invitations go to scholars or other public figures accustomed to engaging in dialogue based in evidence and reasoning. At campuses where purveyors of hate, or celebrities famous only for their viciousness have been invited to speak because of their ability to provoke, it is hardly surprising that some people have, in fact, been provoked. But attempting to shut down speakers only plays into the hands of those who in the long run want to undermine the ability of colleges and universities to expand how we think and what we know.

I consider it my duty as university president to ensure that students, faculty and staff have opportunities to make their views heard, and to learn from reactions that follow. I have and will continue to defend freedom of expression – cognizant that not everyone has equal access to the tools for making use of that freedom and adamant that “freedom of expression” never be allowed to legitimize persecution. I will continue to support the right to speak out with views that may be at odds with the campus mainstream, but I will not countenance harassment. That’s a commitment to free speech, and I view it as core to the educational enterprise.

Events at Charlottesville underscored the problems that arise when exercises in intimidation are permitted under the guise of promoting dialogue and discussion. Our obligation to eradicate harassment entails a commitment to stop those who would bully the disenfranchised, to stop those who would terrorize others for their own purposes. That’s a commitment to equity and inclusion – also core to the educational enterprise.

Engaging with difference, including intellectual diversity, is essential for learning at the highest level. We learn from one another through our differences as well as our commonalities, and, in so doing, we can build meaningful solidarity – learning to care for one another.

I look forward to a year full of learning, engagement and care!

Trustees’ Statement on Equity and Inclusion

At its Annual Meeting just before Commencement, Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees’ Equity and Inclusion Task Force presented the full Board with a statement of principles. This task force’s work grew out of the board retreat in 2014 at which trustees made the commitment to pursue fairness and community building throughout the University’s functions. Here is the statement:

The Wesleyan University Board of Trustees is committed to a campus culture characterized by diversity, equity, and inclusion. We believe that in order to meet the University’s educational mission and provide a thriving educational environment, the University’s governance, curriculum, and operations should be regularly reviewed and renewed to ensure that they reflect and address the broad diversity of the Wesleyan community.

The members of the board commit to conversations regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, and to monitoring progress in promoting equity and inclusion in all aspects of University life, including:

Eliminating the comparative disadvantages in educational experience that may separate student groups on the basis of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and/or other factors; and

Honest conversations, openness, and metrics regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion and evidence reflecting student success, faculty and staff recruitment and retention, and institutional performance.

This morning I read an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that noted that efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion can be most effective with strong commitment from the top of the organization. I am proud to work with trustees who have embraced these goals and are working to integrate them throughout our operations.

 

Choosing the Right School, Choosing Wesleyan

This is the season when lots of families are visiting college campuses across the country — looking for the one that feels like the perfect match. Juniors start off slowly, and often with some hesitation. After all, they have plenty of time to play the field, checking out big campuses at which one can get happily lost in the crowd and small ones that promise supportive community. Seniors by now are often in the frantic stage (my daughter Sophie is a senior), trying to determine if they are really sure enough about a school to apply early decision. For parents and students alike, this can feel like a lot of pressure.

I love meeting with prospective students as I walk around campus. Their questions reveal something of their hopes for the future, and I am always interested in learning what they are looking for in a campus. I usually stress that Wesleyan isn’t for everybody, and that this is a place that values individuality, intellectual experimentation and cultural curiosity. Students who are interested in going beyond their comfort zone to meet new people, discover new fields of inquiry and learn from unexpected sources… these are the young people most likely to feel that sense of “match” with Wesleyan.

While Wesleyan has gotten significantly more selective over the last 8 years, the university has also made strong efforts to improve access. We’ve been actively seeking applicants from parts of the country that had not previously sent the university many students, and it includes making sure we meet full need without requiring heavy borrowing. Indeed, last year while significantly increasing our spending on financial aid, we expanded our “no loans” policy to include any student whose household income was under 60,000. Meeting full need with little required loans — those remain key elements of our approach to financial aid.

As students visit Wesleyan, I hope they get a strong sense of how we combine academic rigor with intellectual flexibility. I also hope they get a feel for the extraordinary student culture here: its compassionate solidarity, social engagement, and its supportive, inspiring ambiance.

Choosing the right college can feel overwhelming; its true importance lies in finding a place that will launch one into meaningful work, deep friendships and lifelong learning. When I wrote the following (the conclusion to my recent book Beyond the University), I was thinking of Wesleyan and the transformative education students can find here:

Through doubt, imagination, and hard work, students come to understand that they really can reshape themselves and their societies. Liberal education matters because by challenging the forces of conformity it promises to be relevant to our professional, personal and political lives. That relevance isn’t just about landing one’s first job; it emerges over the course of one’s working life. The free inquiry and experimentation of a reflexive, pragmatic education help us to think for ourselves, take responsibility for our beliefs and actions, and become better acquainted with our own desires, our own hopes. Liberal education matters far beyond the university because it increases our capacity to understand the world, contribute to it, and reshape ourselves. When it works, it never ends.

 

Trustees and the Future of Wesleyan

This past weekend the Board of Trustees gathered for its annual fall retreat. At this meeting, Trustees and Representatives to the Board discuss a range of issues important for the future of the University. We began on Friday night with conversations about equity and inclusion. Over the last year a task force of Trustees has been discussing how we can better ensure that all people on campus feel they are full members of our community and engaged in our educational project. Everyone at the retreat had taken implicit bias tests in advance of the meeting to better understand how even when we have the best of intentions, prejudice can affect our thinking.

We resumed our meetings Saturday morning with a discussion of the role of residential fraternities on campus, based on recommendations that I had made to the Board after a summer of collecting input. During the course of the weekend, the Board and I agreed on some changes described in a message that went out from Joshua Boger and me this morning. The message reads, in part: “With equity and inclusion in mind, we have decided that residential fraternities must become fully co-educational over the next three years. If the organizations are to continue to be recognized as offering housing and social spaces for Wesleyan students, women as well as men must be full members and well-represented in the body and leadership of the organization….Our residential Greek organizations inspire loyalty, community and independence. That’s why all our students should be eligible to join them.”

Saturday’s discussion moved on to campus life generally and how we might make it as educationally potent as possible. As a residential liberal arts school, it is crucial that outside the classroom our students are being prepared for life after graduation. Trustees shared the ways in which their own experiences on campus have affected their lives beyond the university.

The retreat continued with discussions of how Wesleyan is perceived by prospective students, the campus community, alumni, parents and the academic marketplace. We had vigorous conversations about what Wes stands for today, and how we want our school to be perceived 25 years from now. What should we be doing now to ensure the brightest future for alma mater?

Over the weekend, I witnessed many ways in which loyal and hardworking trustees, students, faculty, staff and alumni are devoted to Wesleyan. It’s a devotion stemming from powerful experiences and strong memories joined with the aspiration to make our university even stronger and the experiences of students going forward even more powerful.

Commemorating Freedom Summer

This weekend The Center for African American Studies and the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life have put together an extraordinary celebration and commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the “freedom summer” of 1964. That year student activists from across the country headed south to work with African Americans in the struggle for civil rights. Others supported that work by organizing protests or doing important logistical tasks, often outside the spotlight. Alliances across religious affiliation, ethnicity, gender and race were key components of that heady time. There were tensions, to be sure, but there was also compassionate solidarity to “bend the arc of history” toward justice.

Wesleyan students, faculty and staff, along with other Middletown residents, were very much engaged in those efforts. Churches played a crucial role here as they did in the south. And music was everywhere linked to this work. So it’s fitting that our freedom summer celebration begins Friday with a “rolling concert” at 6 p.m. (100 Cross Street) featuring choirs from AME Zion Church, Middletown High School and Wesleyan. Dar Williams ’89 and Kim and Reggie Harris will be featured Friday evening, along with a children’s choir. The symposium gets underway Saturday afternoon.

In 1964 many in the Wesleyan community joined with a movement to work for the principles like the right to vote and equal protection under the law. These principles are under enormous pressure once again. As we celebrate 1964, may we be inspired to take up today’s challenges.

Thanks to Lois Brown, Rob Rosenthal and everyone who helped make this event happen.

 

Freedom Summer Schedule:

Friday, Sept. 12

Rolling Concert

6 p.m.

Location:   Dance Department – 100 Cross Street

Performers: Unity Choir, Cross Street AME Zion Church

6:30 pm

Location: Olin Library Steps

Performers: Middletown High School Choir and Wesleyan Singers

7 p.m.

Location: Memorial Chapel

Performers: Children’s Choir of Cross Street AME Zion Church; Dar Williams ‘89, Kim and

Reggie Harris

 

Saturday, Sept. 13

Freedom Summer Symposium

Fayerweather Beckham Hall – 45 Wyllys Avenue

1:30 p.m.   Panel: “Go South, Young Wes Men”: Freedom Summer 1964 and Wesleyan Student Activism

Panelists: Ron Young ’86, John Suter ’65, Stephen Oleskey ’65

Moderator: Ashraf Rushdy, African American Studies Program and English, Wesleyan

3 p.m.  Panel: Unwavering Courage: Civil Rights Activists of Freedom Summer

Panelists: Penny Patch, Muriel Tillinghast and Gwendolyn Simmons

Moderator: Anna Wasescha, President, Middlesex Community College

 

4:30 p.m.   Keynote Lecture by Margaret Burnham, Professor of Law and Founder of Civil Rights And Restorative Justice Institute at Northeastern University

 

Related Events

Friday, Sept. 12: 3-5

Saturday, Sept. 13: 9-12

Wesleyan Special Collections and Archives: “Civil Rights Activism and Wesleyan” An exhibit featuring historic Civil Rights-era Wesleyan materials, documents, and photographs.

 

Learning, Not Violence

What a summer it has been! Around the world there has been an escalation of hatred and violence — vitriol is flowing in all corners of the globe. Aggressive Russian action against Ukraine continues, and the reactions of the West, however tepid, may be leading to a new Cold War. In the Middle East the killing continues at an accelerated pace. Rockets fired by Hamas fighters from Gaza (sometimes from behind schools and hospitals) into Israel has led to a brutal response that seems only to further reduce the chances for a peace settlement. It is heartbreaking to see the destruction wrought by Israeli strikes, particularly those that have hit the university, shelters and schools. Images of the wounded children burn in my mind.

In Syria the death toll now approaches 200,000, and the mayhem in this failing state is having reverberations throughout the region. ISIS fighters have slaughtered countless civilians who don’t share their particular religious commitments. The horrific beheading of journalist James Foley can stand for so many unspeakable acts. American military activity will certainly be increasing in the coming weeks, who knows with what results?

Here in the United States we have been facing our own crisis because of police acts that evoke long histories of racism and violence. The recent deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles and of Michael Brown in Missouri  — all unarmed black men — remind us of the struggle that remains to achieve anything like “equal protection under the law.”

And let us not forget the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in the spring. We tweeted “bring our girls home,” but the heinous activities of the barbaric group continue unabated. Education for girls remains a right we must struggle to protect.

Why rehearse these horrors as we prepare to begin the academic year? I am thinking about them as a reminder to myself how fortunate I am to be part of a community where disagreement, even intense disagreement, can lead to learning — and not violence. At Wesleyan we will engage issues, and we will do so in order to understand ourselves and the world a little more clearly. The point of this understanding is to be empowered to act more effectively and responsibly beyond the university. Our learning community is one that values inquiry, and, of course, inquiry can often be upsetting, even destabilizing. But we should know that our campus is a place that refuses violence and cultivates care. Our willingness, our responsibility, to look out for one another is one of the qualities that make alma mater such a vital place.

As summer winds down and students, faculty and staff get set to begin the academic year, let us be aware of the work we still have to do to make Wesleyan a more equitable, inclusive and positive community. And let us also be thankful that it is already a place at which we can learn from one another, disagree with one another, and know that we do so within an ethos of peace and respect.

Board of Trustees on Diversity

One of the points that emerged from last year’s campus-wide discussions concerning diversity was that all constituencies of the university should think hard about what it means to create an inclusive, equitable educational institution. For its part, the Board of Trustees decided to devote its fall Retreat to this topic. We just finished our meetings yesterday, and they served to raise crucial issues and affirm core values.

The Retreat weekend began with a lecture by Al Young ’88, a distinguished professor and chair of the department of sociology at the University of Michigan. Al has done much research on issues of race and inclusion, research he began in a Wesleyan context by studying the Vanguard Class of African American men who attended Wesleyan in the late 1960s. He spoke at the Retreat about the challenges faced by the students then, and he compared them to the challenges faced by students from under-represented groups today. What will be our institutional response to these challenges, he asked? Chair of the Board Joshua Boger and Vice-Chairs Irma González and Ellen Jewett played leading roles in keeping us focused and productive, and they were well supported by staff, Wesleyan Student Assembly and faculty representatives.

Over the next 48 hours, Retreat participants addressed issues of diversity, equity and inclusion with respect to various aspects of the university experience. How does one weigh the imperatives of free speech against the offense caused to others by those words? How do we reflect the changing interests of students while retaining core areas of study? How do we select a student body in a highly competitive admissions process that makes the most educational sense for all?  How do we recruit and retain faculty and staff who exemplify talent, diversity, curiosity, empathy and achievement? How do we build a culture at Wesleyan in which all can thrive? …We didn’t expect to arrive at a consensus on answers, but we did commit to remaining mindful of the importance of these questions for our community.

As I reflect back on the meeting, three streams of concern are paramount: Admissions, Campus Learning, Alumni Engagement. I share in the most general terms my own thoughts about our goals in these areas.

1. Admissions. We should recruit extraordinarily talented students with a commitment to find people with the kind of deep potential that will enable them to learn in a residential community dedicated to “boldness, rigor and practical idealism.”

2. Campus Learning. We should ensure that all at our university have the maximum opportunities to realize their potential and to make use of untapped resources they hadn’t previously recognized. This exploration takes place in a context that amplifies personal benefits by creating possibilities for their social resonance and relevance. People discover what they love to do; they get better at it; they share it with others.

3. Beyond Campus. We should engage alumni so they are a resource to help support goals 1 and 2, and we should make the university a resource for lifelong learning. This commitment to lifelong learning is reflected in the support of research and creative practice that makes a contribution to “the good of the world.”

Diversity and Inclusion, as I wrote in a series of blogs in August, touch on almost all aspects of the university. By addressing these issues at its Retreat, the Board of Trustees re-affirmed the institutional commitment described in the Mission Statement: “to build a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.”

 

Inclusion: Obstacles and Opportunities

This is the first of a series of summer blog posts on obstacles to and opportunities for  inclusion. Subsequent posts will focus on gender, political and religious beliefs, and economic inequality.

As we prepare for our discussions on campus planning this fall, I am eager to gather student, faculty, trustee and alumni views on what we can do to make Wesleyan’s residential learning experience as powerful as possible. Today we re-launched the online version of my Modern and Postmodern class, and I have been impressed with what students have reported from their work in this and our other Coursera classes. While we experiment modestly with online courses, I want to double down on our commitment to residential learning. Campus planning discussions will be a key part of that.

I am particularly concerned with issues of inclusion, and summer events have provided plenty of food for thought. Issues of diversity and inclusion were highlighted last year in two campus-wide diversity forums and in countless conversations among staff, faculty, students and alumni. Wesleyan has proudly adopted the label “Diversity University” for a long time. Two years ago I wrote the following in an essay entitled “Why We Value Diversity.”

At Wesleyan University our mission statement reminds us that we aim to prepare students “to explore the world with a variety of tools.” Diversity is an aspect of the world we expect our students to explore, turning it into an asset they can use. We expect graduates to have completed a course of study in the liberal arts that will enable them to see differences among people as a powerful tool for solving problems and seeking opportunities. We expect graduates to embrace diversity as a source of lifelong learning, personal fulfillment, and creative possibility. Selective universities want to shape a student body that maximizes each undergraduate’s ability to go beyond his or her comfort zone to draw on resources from the most familiar and the most unexpected places.

How can we live up to our aspirations to make “excellence inclusive?”

This question has been much on my mind in thinking about the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida. Zimmerman followed Martin because he found the young man suspicious – Trayvon was black and he was wearing a hoodie. Martin was guilty of “walking while being black,” and many of our African and African-American students have told us that they feel likely to be profiled in similar circumstances. Profiling has no place on our campus, and we will not stand for it.

Officially prohibiting profiling is one thing; promoting inclusion is another, more complex challenge. How do we promote inclusion here? In classrooms and dorm rooms, from athletics to the arts?  We do it in part through administratively organized programs, such as the new work in orientation we’ve added in this year. But my hope is that we will rise to this challenge through myriad, informal discussions across campus to become more mindful of any barriers to inclusion that still exist at Wesleyan.

Let me quote President Obama on what might come of these efforts: there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?  Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?  That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.”

Trying our best to be “a little more honest” and to “wring as much bias” out of ourselves as possible will be important tasks as we discuss how to ensure that  Wesleyan provides the very best residential education for all our students. We can’t pretend that we are immune to the violence and prejudice that infects much of the world around us. But we can stand with those who promote fairness and inclusion, making the most of out of diversity in the service of education.

Our campus is not a “bubble” that keeps the world outside at bay. Our campus should be a place of inquiry at which “boldness, rigor and practical idealism” are put in the service of “the good of the individual and the good of the world,” to paraphrase Wesleyan President Willbur Fisk (1831). By building a more inclusive and dynamic campus community, we are encouraging everyone at Wes to use the lessons learned here, with “independence of mind and generosity of spirit,” to make a positive difference beyond the borders of the university.

 

Affirmative Action Preserved (for Now)

Yesterday the Supreme Court decided to return Fisher v University of Texas to a lower court to further examine the university’s admissions policies to ensure that its use of race as one factor in a holistic process of admitting students was essential to achieving the diversity that contributes to an effective learning environment. Critics of affirmative action are pleased that strict scrutiny will be used to ensure that any use of race meets a high standard of fairness to individuals, while defenders of affirmative action take some solace that current practices consistent with previous Supreme Court decisions will be allowed to stand. At Wesleyan, we have long believed that race and ethnicity are factors that legitimately play roles in an admissions process that aims to create a diverse student body, and we also are mindful of using our financial aid to ensure that students with great ability but limited economic means (of whatever race and ethnicity) are given a chance at the kind of progressive liberal arts education we provide here.

Defining who deserves to be admitted to any particular university is notoriously difficult. Every year I meet people who attended elite Ivy League schools and who were rejected from Wesleyan. And I hear about Wesleyan admits who were rejected at schools that are supposed to be easier to get into. Each year we strive to put together a class that has enormous potential to learn in an open curriculum on a residential campus — a class that is exuberant about learning, eager to look at the world from a variety of perspectives and prepared to experience the creative and scholarly dimensions of university life. In most cases, the students admitted have great test scores and high grades, but in some cases those conventional measures do not adequately reflect the student’s real potential. That’s why our Admissions Office employs a holistic approach. We want students who will thrive  at Wesleyan, and we are lucky that they choose to come here from across the globe.

Race remains very relevant to the lives of students before they apply to Wesleyan, and that is one of the reasons we take it into account in admissions. To ignore race in contemporary America would be to perpetuate racist practices that still exist. But race is not our only measure of diversity. For now, we have the ability to use race among other factors in building campus diversity. We will continue to do so with all the scrutiny this sensitive area deserves.

 

 

Commencement 2013 — Tradition, Activism, and Living With Contradiction

Presiding over the Commencement ceremonies is one of my most moving and fulfilling duties. Each year I not only get to congratulate several hundred deserving Wesleyan students and their families, but I also get to soak in speeches from wonderfully interesting honorees. This was a year of many highlights, from Jim Dresser’s reminder of the deep traditions of excellence (and humor) on which we draw still today, to Majora Carter’s reminder that we must continue to struggle against long odds if we are devoted to change that matters. Joss Whedon had me in stitches when he told us gravely that our commonality was based on the fact that we were all going to die. His killer address brought home the importance of living with contradiction, with the energetic ambivalence that we should never try to smother.

I can’t reproduce the honorees remarks here, though soon we will have videos to share. Meanwhile, I humbly present some excerpts of my own remarks to the class of 2013.

During your four years here, Wesleyan has been largely isolated from many of the troubles of this world. While you have been students, the United States has been engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on this Memorial Day Weekend, I begin by asking us all to take a moment to remember that these wars have cost the lives of thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians in those countries.

Economic times have been difficult as well. When you first arrived, in the fall of 2009, the global economy was reeling from the most massive disruption since the Great Depression. Unemployment in this country quickly skyrocketed and is only now slowly receding, while the distance between the very wealthy and the average American has increased enormously. 2009-2013 has been a good time to be in a bubble—even a pretty leaky bubble like our own here on campus.

You have spent four years taking advantage of an education that we believe is devoted to boldness, rigor, and practical idealism, and now as I speak to you for your last time as students here, I’d like to underscore three ideals that I hope you will take with you and make practical in your lives going forward: non-violence; diversity; and equality.

Campus culture is something that students, faculty, and staff create together, and for all the glories of the culture we’ve created here, it has not been immune to violence. Whether the subtle aggressions of institutionalized racism or the trauma of sexual assault, we have witnessed how violence disrupts lives—how it infects our heads and hearts. One of the tragedies of university campuses across this country is that, for all their purported liberalism, they often cater to a culture of privilege in which under-represented groups and women are subjected to forms of violence that preserve social hierarchies as they destroy individual lives. I trust we have learned at Wesleyan how important the aversion to violence is for education. The free inquiry at the core of learning certainly depends on vigorous discussion and debate; it depends on our willingness to take risks and to discover that even our deepest convictions may be mistaken. But learning also requires freedom from the senseless wounding of aggression.

In a land all too prone to pointless violence, I trust that in the future you will work to create non-violent communities that promote creative experimentation, and that you will reject cultural tendencies that subordinate patient inquiry to macho projections of force.

A second ideal I hope you will make practical in your lives after graduation is the value of diversity as anti-conformity. At Wesleyan our commitment to diversity is related to our belief that we have a better chance of developing powerful ideas and practices if we work through a multiplicity of perspectives. We know that homogeneity kills creativity and that diversity is a powerful hedge against the “rationalized conformity” of groupthink. Productively connecting things that had not previously been brought together is very much in the Wesleyan spirit. For example, think of your experience with Wescam these last few weeks Of course, not all combinations will be productive—some creative experiments fail. But without divergent thinking we will be more likely to fall into patterns of enforced conformity that undermine our potential for the future.

You are beginning your post-collegiate years at a time when the phrase “potential for the future” points to something extremely fragile for many young people in this country. This brings me to the third ideal: equality. I trust you have experienced a spirit of egalitarianism here at Wesleyan—a spirit that celebrates great performance rather than great privilege. But while you have been in college, the privileged have become more and more powerful across this land. And this may well continue as entrenched elites forge better and better tools to protect their advantages. Access to a real education is the best antidote to the unnatural aristocracy of wealth. Education creates opportunity, allowing for the experience of freedom as one’s capacities are enhanced and brought into use. Access to education has never been more important, and that’s why I pledge to you today that as long as I am president, financial aid will remain my highest fundraising priority.

Wesleyan will remain a place where students from diverse backgrounds come to rely on themselves, their neighbors and teachers in a context of non-violent egalitarianism and community. Having made this education your own, I am confident that you will resist the trends of inequality that are tearing at the fabric of our country.

Non-violence, diversity and equality…these are ideals shared by generations of Wesleyan alumni. As I say each year, we Wesleyans have used our education to mold the course of culture ourselves lest the future be shaped by those for whom creativity and change, freedom and equality, diversity and tolerance, are much too threatening. Now we alumni are counting on you, class of 2013, to join us in helping to shape our culture, so that it will not be shaped by the forces of violence, conformity and elitism.

We are counting on you because we have already seen what you are capable of when you have the freedom and the tools, the mentors and the friendship, the insight and the affection to go beyond what others have defined as your limits. What you can do fills me with hope, fills me with confidence in the potential of education. I know that you will find new ways to build community, to experience the arts, to join personal authenticity with compassionate solidarity. When this happens, you will feel the power and promise of your education. And we, your Wesleyan family, we will be proud of how you keep your education alive by making it effective in the world.

My dear friends and colleagues, four years ago we met while unloading cars together here on Andrus field. Later that day, many of your family members sat teary-eyed in the chapel as we spoke about how they would be leaving you “on your own” at Wesleyan. It seems like such a short time ago. Now it’s you who are leaving, but do remember that no matter how “on your own” you feel yourselves to be, you will always be members of the Wesleyan family. Wherever your exciting pursuits take you, please come home to alma mater often to share your news, your memories and your dreams. Thank you and good luck!