Diversity and Transformation

On Friday, in New York, the president of Middlebury and I co-hosted a meeting of liberal arts college representatives about diversity and innovation. It was an exceptionally stimulating gathering, facilitated admirably by Susan Sturm and Freeman Hrabowski. Susan is the George M. Jaffin Professor of Law and Social Responsibility at the Columbia University Law School, where she also directs the Center for Institutional and Social Change. Freeman has been president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for 20 years and is widely recognized for his success in steering African American students into research and professional positions in the sciences.

Provost Rob Rosenthal and VP Sonia Manjon joined me at the meeting. The discussions made it clear how important our diversity work is for some of our major initiatives. For example, we have been adding resources and leadership strength to our civic engagement programs over the last few years; now we  must ensure that all our students have opportunities to work in community, find productive internships, and generally translate their education into practical terms off campus. We recognize that inclusion and difference are important to the success of civic engagement; now we must turn that recognition into specific goals for tapping into the strengths of our diverse community.

Over the last few years we have also been emphasizing the role of creativity and innovation throughout our liberal arts curriculum. At the meetings in New York, it was clearer than ever to me that we must leverage the creative spark that comes from having teams of heterogeneous students, faculty and staff. At Wesleyan we have become adept at celebrating difference; now we must become better at finding ways to turn the different perspectives we bring to projects into forms of creative energy. This is less about personal identity than it is about harnessing the productive synergies that come from bringing together folks from different backgrounds with different points of view.

For Wesleyan to continue to thrive in the long run, we must show the relevance of a liberal arts curriculum to students from diverse backgrounds around the world. In our scholarship, teaching and co-curricular activities, we must make this education relevant as a resource to those concerned about the future shape of higher education. By embracing the transformative power of diversity, Wesleyan can help shape the future of higher education rather than just react to the emergent cultural and economic conditions for colleges and universities.