12/20/2016 Daniel R. Porterfield

A Day of Dialogue

This magazine article is part of Fall 2016/Issue 87

America just completed a polarizing and divisive presidential election. All across the country, students, scholars and citizens are discussing and assessing the events of the past year while trying to predict national policy changes and global impacts moving forward. Clearly, this is a time in which the intellectual resources of higher education can benefit our students and our society.

At Franklin & Marshall College, and on all campuses, we must gather together to analyze the national climate from all perspectives. Sometimes the debate may get heated, sometimes community members may express themselves imperfectly, and sometimes peers, friends and colleagues may find some words or ideas offensive.

The beauty of American democracy and American higher education is that we foster deep questioning, discovery, innovation, challenging of assumptions and scrutiny of ideas.

The proper role of higher education is to shine a light on important topics, to encourage inquiry and scholarship, to foster free and open dialogue, and to challenge members of communities to maintain environments of civility while rejecting harassment or invective. This is our charge, and the charge of every generation of students and scholars: to contend with questions and issues openly and to protect and promote free expression.

Embracing these commitments, F&M faculty, students and staff organized a Day of Dialogue in October, featured on page 16. We rescheduled classes in order to give students an entire day to consider and discuss questions of identity and inclusion. More than 2,000 people took part in programs on ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, politics, and other aspects of campus culture throughout the day in classrooms, libraries, and College Houses.

  • Among the popular events at F&M’s Day of Dialogue was “Diversity Through Time,” a visual representation of the diversification of the F&M student body throughout history. Among the popular events at F&M’s Day of Dialogue was “Diversity Through Time,” a visual representation of the diversification of the F&M student body throughout history. Image Credit: Deb Grove

The energy on campus was palpable. I saw countless moments of honesty and integrity, disagreement and empathy. It was a memorable expression of the intellectual and social values of Franklin & Marshall and American higher education in general.

But this energy alone cannot sustain progress. In recent weeks, at dozens of colleges around the country—including at F&M—there have been disturbing reports of bias incidents targeting women, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ+ community members, Democrats and Republicans.

Progress must come first from communities ensuring that events like the Day of Dialogue are picked up and amplified through the week-to-week work of a college campus—and that’s exactly what’s been happening at Franklin & Marshall. And secondly, progress will be made by continuing to live the mission of higher education, which includes serving society by cultivating the talents of students from all backgrounds. In this way, we can contribute to the democratic practice of building a strong, shared future for America and the world.

 
“The energy on campus was palpable. I saw countless moments of honesty and integrity, disagreement and empathy.”
Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D.
Daniel R. Porterfield
President, Franklin & Marshall College
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