The theme of our institute this year is hospitality, which our Benedictine sponsors define as:
Implicit in the idea of hospitality is the idea of diversity: We are to seek and to be open to otherness. Diversity is difference; hospitality is an attitude about difference. Hospitality says: We welcome difference.
Why is it a good thing for us to welcome difference?
Last year, working with the institutional diversity committee (Alison Champeaux, Anh Ngo, Carol Paisley, Gary Gordon, Joe Bouie, Larry Goodwin, Sister Mary Rochefort, Marlon Washington, Nicoshia Bolton, Valerie Tanner) and our diversity consultant (Nehrwr Abdul-Wahid), I put forth several reasons why it is important for our College to make serious efforts to become more diverse.
1. Our religious heritage requires it.
In addition to the value of hospitality, the Benedictine value of respect urges us to treat persons "with dignity and reverence without regard to age, gender, race, minority, sexual preference or economic status." We might also add, in the spirit of this list, such categories as physical or mental ability, political affiliation, and religious orientation. Diversity includes many dimensions.
And Ex Corde Ecclesiae says that "a Catholic University must become more attentive to the cultures of the world of today" because "the Kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men and women who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the Kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures." If you're uneasy with the religious language of "building up the Kingdom," I suggest substituting the phrase, "working for social justice." In either case, the point is that the Catholic tradition requires cultural engagement.
2. Second, there is a pragmatic reason why our College should seek diversity, particularly ethnic and racial diversity: Our students are coming to us from an increasingly diverse society, and we are preparing them for responsible living and meaningful work in an increasingly diverse world.
For example, we know that within a decade, the number of high school graduates in Minnesota will decline by 10%, including a 19% decline in Caucasian students. The only increase in this overall decrease will be among populations of color-which will increase by more than 50%. A quick trip to the Twin Cities-and to our Twin Cities campus-provides graphic evidence of this trend. So, if St. Scholastica is going to maintain a traditional student population of 2,000, we are going to have to recognize demographic destiny. That is to say, our Duluth campus will be less white and more racially diverse.
3. Third, the international situation cries out for campus diversity. Diversity must include other nations and cultures. It has become a cliché-but true nonetheless-that the world is increasingly interconnected. The mood of the Middle East determines our mood as we board airplanes or go shopping at large malls. How we interact with the other nations of the earth-and they with us-has enormous implications for the future.
The world is currently engaged in a major conflict that military force alone cannot solve. Politics and economics and human relations and education will have to be involved also. We must send more American students to study abroad in other cultures, and we must bring more international students to study at our colleges and universities. Imagine what could happen if we sent our students to study in moderate Islamic cultures and if the budding terrorists in the madrases could be educated instead at colleges in the United States, in the midwest, in Minnesota. Hospitality and cultural understanding will be critical in achieving the peace.
4. This morning, I want to add a fourth reason why it is important for us to become a more diverse college: Higher learning requires it.
Higher learning, as we understand it at this College, is the study of the arts, the natural and social sciences, and the professions, and-here is the main point-it is learning that is always centered around a particular question. The controlling question can be posed in several ways: Who am I? How should I understand myself and live in the world? What does it mean to flourish, to live fully as an authentic human being?
This is the largest and most important question that we can ask, and everything depends upon how we answer it. We cannot know what it means to be a good citizen or a good parent or a good scientist or a good professional if we do not know what it means to be a good human being. That is the larger governing question.
We cannot go to the dictionary to find the correct answer to the question: What does it mean to be fully human? There is no objectively correct answer. "What is a human being?" is not like, "What is a table?" It's more like "What is happiness?" There are different understandings of what happiness means, and likewise there are different understandings of what it means to be authentically human. Some people think that human life is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Bertrand Russell once remarked that we are "curious accidents in a backwater." The New Testament offers yet a different understanding.
The most enduring and provocative proposals about what it means to be human are recorded in the arts, in literature, in religious and philosophical texts. Examples include Plato's myth of the cave, the Hebrew Bible's story of the Garden of Eden, Siddhartha's experience of enlightenment, Karl Marx's ideal of the classless society, Camus' myth of Sisyphus. These are the classics, and they are the subject matter of the liberal arts and general education.
Higher learning, as we understand it at St. Scholastica, should be centered on studying the classic proposals about what it means to be fully human. Of course, these are not the only things we study at the College, and it is important to note that the center of the curriculum is not the whole of the curriculum.
My point is that considerations of authentic humanity ought to guide our investigations in other areas-in the natural sciences, the social sciences and the professions. Without an understanding of what "the good life" means, scientific technique and professional expertise are blind and may be dangerous.
To put this in academic language: Professional education should be grounded in liberal learning. The General Education program should be the super-major of every student at this college.
What does all this have to do with diversity? Everything! Proposals about what it means to be human are not shaped or grasped in a vacuum. They reflect different points of view that are influenced by culture, history, gender, socialization, and so forth. And different perspectives offer different clues about what it means to be human. Diverse perspectives yield a more complete picture.
We want diversity on our campus and in our curriculum because we seek multiple perspectives on what it means to be human. What might the Jew, the Christian, the Buddhist, the Confucian, the Muslim, the Hindu, the atheist learn from one another about what it means to be a human being? What are the clues and hints to be learned from those whose voices have not been well-represented in telling the human story? We need to experience enough different tiles that the mosaic itself begins to take shape.
Here's an example. This summer our family vacation was in Chicago, where we dutifully visited ALL the museums, except the planetarium. At the Art Institute, the girls tired of Impressionist paintings, and so I took them downstairs to the Children's Interactive Museum.
There was an amazing DVD playing in the children's section (perhaps some of you have seen it). Artistic representations of human faces-taken from the Museum's holdings-are transformed one into another. A little girl in a Renoir becomes a bearded man in Van Gogh, and the man reincarnates as the sculpture of an Etruscan woman, and the woman becomes a cubist Picasso face, and so on and on through scores of works of art. The effect was arresting, even hypnotic, and more than one adult was mesmerized by the presentation.
As I watched this morphing process I thought: some force, some adventure, is coming to life, being expressed, urging itself throughout all these faces. "Humanity" isn't any one of these faces; it transcends all of them, but it is being revealed differently in each face. And the more faces I see, changing one into another, the better I grasp the underlying theme. The more diversity I witness, the greater the possibility for understanding an underlying unity.
Education is grounded in the conviction that human beings, no matter how different they are from one another, can yet understand one another. This is why we write and read books, why we compose and enjoy music, why we establish East-West dialogues. Our common humanity is the key to understanding our human diversity. Even if I have never experienced first-hand the humiliation and injustice of racial prejudice, as others have, I can-if I work at it-experience their experience as they convey it in their stories and in the records they leave. I can feel the feelings of others.
Education is the cultivation of imagination. An educated person is one who has learned how to transcend immediate personal experience and to enter imaginatively into the experiences of other people from other times, other cultures, other worldviews.
In the end we are left with an apparent paradox. It is through our diversity that we come to understand what authentic humanity means. But it is only because of our shared humanity that we can understand our diversity.
To summarize: Hospitality is an attitude about diversity. We should welcome and seek diversity on our campus because: our mission requires it, our future-locally and internationally-requires it, and higher learning requires it.
I look forward to continuing this conversation with you. Thank you.