1/12/2016 Peter Durantine

President Porterfield: Weaving a 'Single Garment of Destiny'

Following last autumn's social upheavals on campuses across the nation, Franklin & Marshall College President Daniel R. Porterfield brought together more than 400 students and faculty on Nov. 17, 2015, for an unvarnished town hall dialogue on race and inclusion at F&M.

In the weeks since, the College's faculty, administrators and students have made a concerted effort to enact new initiatives and strengthen established practices to rebuff racism and ensure all members of the community feel safe, welcome and included on campus.

On Jan. 12, six days before the country prepared to celebrate civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Porterfield delivered a major address to the campus about continuing to build on the College's work to promote diversity and foster a culture of inclusiveness for all.

The president's speech, as prepared, follows:

Our 'Single Garment of Destiny'

Our 'Single Garment of Destiny'

Daniel R. Porterfield

President, Franklin & Marshall College

Mayser Center, January 12, 2016

Thank you, Raheem, for that introduction—and for all that you bring to F&M.

In November and December, catalyzed by student protests at the University of Missouri, we joined hundreds of college campuses in a running national conversation about discrimination and difference, identity and community.

This is crucial work. Students, it is vital for your futures. And we return to it after a restful break in the loving spirit of a leader whose legacy we will celebrate nationwide in six days, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave us these visionary words in his final Sunday sermon in 1968:

We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.

As the new semester starts, I thought it would be helpful to provide my thoughts formally on the single garment of destiny that we are working to weave at Franklin & Marshall College. Much good has happened since November. I think there’s a value in my offering a perspective today to frame the work ahead of us—why it matters, which is where I’ll start, and then I’ll reflect on where we are and where we can go.

We began the year with a New Student Convocation organized around the premise that diversity enhances the ability of student groups to achieve ambitious goals together.

Anthropology professor Mary Anne Levine talked about its irreplaceable value for classroom learning.

Students Dustin Smith ’17, Ahn Nguyen ’16, and Bendhji Villiers ’17 discussed the essential resource that diversity provides to teams of students doing vital work as House Advisors, Writing Center tutors, and facilitators in F&M College Prep.

And then throughout the semester, we saw daily evidence of the differences that diversity makes. The most dramatic was our campus-wide dialogue.  But there were subtle examples, too

In the gorgeous performance of the composition “The Logic of Mutual Inclusion” in the Fall Dance Concert…

In the insightful final presentations on stereotypes by the students in history professor Doug Anthony’s Connections class “Making Race in America,” hosted for the public at Bonchek College House…

In the moving vigil for the victims of terrorism in France and elsewhere, organized by the French Club, the Interfaith Council, and the Muslim Students Association…

In the joyous Gender Bender Ball and the spectacular end-of-year formal held by Sigma Pi, an F&M fraternity led by Giovan Shepard ’16 that is showing the way on inclusiveness…

And in the humanitarian flood damage repair carried out just last week in Sugar Land, Texas, by the Catastrophic Relief Alliance, half of whose participants were international students spending their vacation helping low-income families in this country.

Research shows that diversity enhances our collective mind-space for creative group work and problem solving—so needed in an intertwined global knowledge economy and on a fragile planet that’s heating up in more ways than one.

So, the instrumental value of and need for diversity is one reason we must work intentionally to be inclusive and respectful and empowering of one another.

Another reason, more intrinsic, is our human need for self-understanding and for richness in life. Diversity adds joy, enriches civilization and the arts, and draws us closer to the mystery of our common humanity. We are all living the dialectic of sameness and difference in our relationships, throughout our lives. That’s what it means to have an identity. And at the larger level, as the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes once wrote, “No culture thrives in isolation. Cultures thrive in dialogue, in contact, in breakthrough.”

Indeed, it is those breakthroughs diversity affords that I cherish in my own life—indelible moments of meaning:

In a middle school where I felt isolated as the only low-income student, a handful of African-American and Jewish students taught me how to carry myself with pride.

In college, when the marginalized teenagers I mentored let me into their inner lives and social worlds.

After college, when the prisoners that I taught showed me the boundless passion of a determined learner…

Or when my LGBT students gave me invaluable lessons in how to raise my own children…

Or when the recently-arrived immigrants I worked with worshiped education like a religion and showed me what it must have taken for my own migrant ancestors to survive so that I could thrive.

The opposite of inclusiveness is intolerance—a sinister force in our humanity—and that’s a third reason for this work. 

Put bluntly, too often we humans stereotype one another, fail to welcome one other, silence one another, hurt one another, and even hate one another. I wish that were different but it’s a fact of our frailty.

For that reason, we have to call upon the better angels of our nature and sustain conversations at the individual level and policies at the institutional level to prevent and address the recurring reality of discrimination.

I said this in November but it bears repeating now: Our students cannot take the risk of growth and learning in college if they cannot trust that they can be who they are, where they’re from—respected, seen, heard, valued. That trust is crucial to intellectual and personal growth. As fellow learners, we are all called to create a culture of reciprocal respect and growth. It is the shared responsibility of campus citizenship. Those of us with more power need to do more to protect others’ rights to pursue their education free from harassment. Those of us with more privilege need to educate ourselves about what it means to grow up with less of it.

There’s a fourth reason this work matters so very much, and, in my view, it is central to a liberal arts education. It is because there are profound inequities in our society and on our planet that, morally speaking, demand the engagement of every person with education, with power, and with money. 

In order to make differences on these crying issues—children in poverty, unjust criminal justice, schools built to fail, jobless futures, political persecution—we must analyze these realities, rather than deny them, and we must understand their historical and structural causes, all of which takes intellectual work.

Discrimination is not just a personal matter; it is a structural one. Histories matter, and in the words of Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.”

America is a great nation, in many ways a beacon of freedom. We all wish this country were forged only from a noble ethic of liberty, democracy, discovery, and individual rights.

But that fantasy isn’t true to this land’s living history. America was also forged by harsh practices of conquest, racism, slavery, segregation, patriarchy, and economic exploitation. 

This is indisputable—and it’s not unpatriotic to say so. This history explains why, even with decades of egalitarian progress and historic victories over totalitarian regimes—surely, proof of national greatness—this country still sustains so much structural racism and inequality.

Students, I realize that some of you may be asking, “What is structural racism?”

By that I mean persistent identity-based inequities passed down the generations and embedded in everything from national myths to neighborhood design, from public education and private tax loopholes, from anti-immigrant policies to electoral gerrymandering, and from the criminal justice system to, yes, colleges and universities.

I think it is part of being a liberally-educated person to engage this mingled yarn of national identity—good and ill together—with the humble recognition that among us in this room, our ancestors and our families today experience the American reality differently. 

So, to return, what does it take to enjoy the blessings of diversity in academic life and to grow?  At the human level, honestly, we have to overcome our fears—the fear of looking uninformed, the fear of crossing boundaries, the fear of change, the fear of calling someone out, the fear of breaking from the group, the fear of not having the answer, the fear of speaking up and reaching out and coming out.

I understand this fear. It’s why I told my searching self a long time ago to try always to walk beside people I admire, people of integrity, especially the young, so that some of their courage might sprinkle off on me.

That’s why I asked Raheem to introduce me today. He’s a first-year STEM Posse student from Miami who came to me after reading a DPS Timely Warning notice last semester to suggest it wasn’t safe or helpful to refer to suspects by their presumed ethnicities. He was exactly right, and DPS has changed that practice.

And then I heard Raheem strike gold at the Weis College House Uncommon Hour gathering in early December, when he said this to start the meeting: “I know that it can be intimidating hearing students talk about racism they have experienced, because if you’re white you don’t want to say the wrong thing, but go ahead and speak up. I won’t judge you for trying to say something. I’m sure I don’t know everything or say everything just right.”

Don’t be afraid. Join the conversation. Listen, learn, feel, think, ask, speak—and maybe laugh, and make new friends. Let’s all be a part of this conversation. That’s Raheem’s message, and it’s mine, too.

In order to move forward, it’s important that we take a moment to take stock.  Like America, the history of F&M and every college and university is a choppy story, one of progress and stasis, inclusive in some ways, exclusive in others. My alma mater Georgetown is exactly the same. I admire all of the past students, past and present faculty staff, and alums of this institution who have optimistically helped the College pursue its academic and democratic ideals, sometimes battling against inertia or hostility.

Because of these individuals, our campus has been able to move to the forefront of higher education change in one area, as we developed and implanted a talent strategy for finding, educating, and propelling into success remarkable students from all backgrounds.

There are many aspects to this initiative, and key among them is that we’ve more than doubled our investment in financial aid since 2008. The results of this academic investment have been nationally significant, and I want to take a moment to lay them out because they are deeply relevant for the work to come.

Since 2008, we have tripled our percentage of incoming lower-income students eligible for federal Pell Grants. We have reduced student indebtedness at graduation by 21 percent since 2012. We have more than doubled our percentage of domestic students of color. We have increased our international students from 9 percent to 14 percent—while continuing our tradition of being one of the rare schools that offers need-based aid to some international students.

Because this is a talent strategy, we created new programs to reach students and schools where we hadn’t previously been looking. Five years ago we created F&M College Prep, which has since launched 50 students to F&M and 200 more to other top colleges. Four years ago we added to the stellar success of our New York Posse program by creating our Miami STEM Posse cohort, whose first ten students will graduate in May. Our Squash ACES program is now in its seventh year and has its first cohort of four high school seniors. We run the Pennsylvania College Advising Corps that serves 18 high-poverty schools and 5,400 students across the state, including at Lancaster’s McCaskey High School. We have forged new partnerships with some of the highest-performing access programs and new high schools in the country, including KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Noble Public Charter Schools, College Match, SEO, and many more. We competed for and received a foundation grant that has allowed us to enroll more DREAM Act eligible students—an investment that enhances America and for which the Statue of Liberty would clap her copper hands.

We recruited Senior Associate Dean Donnell Butler ’95 to help guide this work, and it is showing the way for other top colleges and universities. Five years running, our Pell Grant recipient students have consistently had the highest retention rates in the College with average grades falling in the same band as the student body as a whole.

The White House and major media have drawn attention to our work—The Washington Post calling it a “recruiting revolution” and profiling Michelle Bailey ’17 and Grace Jeong ’15. In August F&M was showcased on the PBS television news show The Newshour—featuring Mike DiAntonio ’15, now working in the College Advising Corps, and Sheldon Ruby ’17, here today. Many institutions are taking notice—including the five liberal arts colleges that created their own STEM Posses like ours.

Together, our work says this to America’s other top colleges: The talent is out there. Go get it. No excuses.

And, by the way, we’re showing that developing talent inclusively will strengthen any school. Last year, F&M’s applications broke the all-time high by 30 percent. Donations for aid have increased significantly. Our rankings are up. One-third of the first-year class now comes from 1000 miles away or more, crucial in an era of vast demographic change. 

I cite this progress not to chime a note of institutional self-satisfaction—and I realize it can sound this way, but actually, to say the exact opposite. We all know that F&M has not yet not fully woven our single garment of destiny. But our sewing kits are out and now we must keep going with the logical next stage of work and create more inclusivity. Justice demands it, our student body deserves it, we can do it, our success will improve the school, and the nation will notice.

We know that we aren’t yet in the Promised Land from the many experiences that students shared right in this room, in that November forum, co-hosted by Diplomatic Congress President Donnell Bailey ’17. We heard about students being called racial slurs. We heard about intolerance and micro-aggressions. We heard about the hidden and not-so-hidden injuries of class.

Quickly the conversation widened from the black freedom struggle to include the needs of Latino students, Muslim students, Asian students, international students, immigrant students, lower-income students, women students, LGBT students, and white students.

We talked about gender identities and sexual identities. We talked about how identities overlap, and about the diversities within identity groups. We talked about complex topics like implicit bias, white privilege, intersectionality, and double consciousness.

I believe I speak for all of the educators who work here, in every role, when I say that we want to help sustain a stronger and more inclusive community. None of us are content. It is time to write a new chapter in our sustainable development as a top American college. The way we are doing that is by providing answers to two central questions:

First, what should be done to make F&M more responsive to the needs of underrepresented students?

And second, what should be done to bring together students of all backgrounds—across all the supposed divides of identity and background and false assumptions about one another?

What I want to do now is articulate some of the answers to these questions, in three broad areas, that so many of have helped develop in the past three months. Some of you may have read earlier emails from me, Dean Margaret Hazlett, or Provost Joel Martin describing some of these actions, and I think it’s important to synthesize them at the start of the semester with so much implementation in front of us.

First, enhancing inclusiveness, integration, and community in our co-curricular programs.

To improve space for students groups, we have identified funding for the most urgent summer renovations and Dean Hazlett is working with students to evaluate the longer-term needs of diverse organizations.

To foster multicultural learning and community in the College Houses, we have selected nine student leaders to become a part of Promoting House Diversity (PHD), and we have encouraged the House governments to increase programming on this theme. Also, leveraging diversity is a point of focus of the ten-year review of the College House system being conducted this year.

To foster conversations among students of differing backgrounds, we are now educating fourteen students we just selected as Diversity Change Agents (DCAs) to hold workshops with student clubs, fraternities and sororities, College Houses, athletic teams, and other groups. 

Toward that goal, the Office of the Dean of the College has planned a series of events and workshops in February. We will also host in February the annual Posse Plus retreat with the theme, “Sticks and Stones: Language and Speech in a Diverse Society.” And, students from Diplomatic Congress, Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council, and the Student Athletic Advisory Committee have had initial meetings to develop interactive programming and dialogue about inclusion, power, and privilege, facilitated by an outside expert.

I can’t tell you how important this work is. And I want to thank those groups for joining the conversation, because if we can make those organizations truly inclusive, you will be incredibly impactful leaders for this school and society.

And I want to thank the Diplomatic Congress, whose executive team is Donnell Bailey ’17, Molly Cadwell ’16, Carmen Navia ’18, and Charley Hagist ’18, for their superb leadership, including the creation last semester of a new Dip Con Diversity Committee and for being so thoughtful and highly inclusive with your appointments to College committees. 

The second area is promoting diversity and inclusiveness in our academic program.

Responsive to student suggestions about leveraging diversity in the classroom—particularly promising given the goals of our new Connections curriculum—in December we made available funds for faculty members to develop a set of workshops on inclusive pedagogy. Just last Friday, fifty-five faculty and academic staff started the semester early with a half-day workshop. My thanks to Professors Lee Franklin, Stephanie McNulty, Katherine McClelland, Ashley Rondini, and Amy Mulnix for immediately organizing this new work, which I know our students appreciate greatly.

As he announced in an email last week, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Joel Martin has worked with the faculty to help F&M become more intentional in its efforts to diversify the faculty, a priority for top schools. To support this effort, Provost Martin formed the Provost’s Advisory Council on Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, which researched how excellent colleges successfully recruit the best and most diverse faculty. We are seeing already more diversity in the faculty applicant pools, and some candidates explicitly stated that they were drawn to Franklin & Marshall because of our commitment to student diversity and inclusion.

And, I’m delighted that our Faculty First Gen Allies group will attend with students a workshop at Harvard University in February—and that the faculty also are looking proactively at enhancing internationalization and language programs, holding a conference on Africana Studies, and exploring the possibility of holding a campus-wide Day of Dialogue. Also it’s very exciting that in the coming weeks, sociology professor Katherine McClelland will host a discussion of her pioneering research on race and ethnicity at F&M.

The third area of work is enhancing campus policies, resources, and procedures.

To build on our early progress in recruiting a diverse and talented student body, we will continue to prioritize financial aid in our fundraising and our budget management, while looking for every opportunity to collaborate with other top national colleges.

To improve our ability to recruit professional staff with the skills, experience, and knowledge to serve our increasingly diverse student body, I have asked Vice President of Finance and Administration Dave Proulx and Director of Human Resources Laura Fiore to develop staff training and set new goals for professional staff recruitment.

To improve our responses to incidents of harassment and invective based on identity, I have asked Dean of the College Margaret Hazlett and General Counsel Pierce Buller to review our College Life Manual and ensure that our policies and procedures are appropriate and to consult with the broad campus community if changes are needed.

To ensure that students know to report such incidents, whether for purposes of making a complaint or more generally to notify the College, which we welcome and encourage, Provost Martin has developed with the Faculty Council a charge for the Fair Practices Committee, chaired by Professor Doug Anthony, to study and make recommendations on a new reporting system. 

To enhance equity for our women employees, this spring we will look closely at the recently completed Gender Climate Survey conducted by Professor Carol Auster, joined by an accomplished scholar in the field who will visit campus.

Also, in response to faculty suggestions, and to give us a better read on the student experience of inclusiveness, we will explore developing a new survey of students that we can both learn from and report on publicly—a potentially valuable step in sustaining a culture of continuous improvement and accountability in these areas. 

Finally, my thanks to many across the College for the superb array of national leaders on inclusiveness slated to speak on campus this semester. This work will begin with a reflective faculty panel the commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and subsequent prominent speakers include Richard Lapchick, internationally recognized expert on athletics and racial equality; Edwidge Danticat, this year’s Hausman lecturer, celebrated author and social activist; and Opal Tometi, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement, as our keynote speaker at Take Back the Night.

This is a strong, coherent, and well-aligned action agenda for the spring semester, developed by many and not just a few. I would like to say a genuine thank you to all involved. Of course, this is one act of a multi-year play and not the whole production. The door is wide open for additional steps and projects.

When it comes to inclusiveness, one form of action is especially important—and that’s dialogue. I don’t mean talk that’s meant to distract or deflect or distort or repeat the same litany of problems without solutions.

I mean real conversation, person to person, mouth to ear. As the educator Paulo Freire has taught us, dialogue is the form of action that creates lasting structural change—honest dialogue, relevant dialogue, problem-posing dialogue, reasoned and non-defensive dialogue.

Listening to one another, encouraging each other to speak, believing the best in one another. Taking the risk to speak openly, knowing that our first words often fall short of the meaning we wish to convey, but like a poet, we keep circling an idea until we can pin it down with precision and then decide again if we actually agree with it.

That’s the kind of dialogue that expands awareness and builds community and opens up minds and hearts for change. We must constantly re-examine our assumptions, we must unlearn what we thought was true, we must sometimes ask for forgiveness, we must embrace the fact that we all see through a glass darkly and have no monopoly on truth. Our perspectives are at best partial, and we must return to questions of identity again and again. We must live these questions.

And that is why a liberal arts campus can be the very best place to conceptualize social change. Because we value ideas. Because we protect freedom of expression. Because we care about the evidence that supports arguments. Because we respect the complexity of issues and don’t settle for platitudes. Because we don’t censor or shout down difficult ideas—we engage them.

There has been a lot of writing in the popular press saying that American campuses can’t do this work anymore. The argument is that political correctness and coddled crybullies supposedly rule the day—but I’ve seen the opposite here—mature, open conversation—students and educators together—and I’m inspired in particular by one F&M student protest that gives lie to the stereotype that all of today’s college-aged change-makers are really illiberal tyrants-in-training.

In mid-November, after some in the F&M community posted racist and abrasive comments on Yik Yak, a group of African American students led by first-year Jael Lewis stepped forward to denounce the postings. They didn’t try to censor Yik Yak. Quite the opposite: They actually took screenshots of the offensive posts to protect them for the record before they could be voted down. Then they made enlarged versions and placed them on a large poster, with blank space for the campus community to combat racism by writing supportive comments. Jael named this extraordinary work of public protest art “Black Yak.”

What I love about Black Yak is that it resisted offensive speech by shining a light on it. That is bold, creative, and courageous—and it has had a stunning educational effect, for, as the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote famously, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

These student-made rays of light were also inspiring to their elders. Over the winter break, a group of my colleagues led by Professors Maria Mitchell and Pam Vail paid tribute to this pro-speech protest by creating a companion display that’s up right now in the College Center. It’s called the Fac/Staff Yak. I hope you all can come to the welcome reception today at 4:45 pm in the College Center—to mark the meaning of faculty and staff choosing to stand with our students on a journey for justice.

In 1952, Ralph Ellison published the novel Invisible Man, which laid bare the dynamics of racism at the interpersonal and structural levels.  The book was a coming of age narrative in which racism in its many guises strips away almost every illusion the unnamed narrator has about his life and his country. But at the end of the novel, crestfallen, cynical, and betrayed, he can still say, with a flicker of hope in the darkness of despair, “America is woven of many strands… Our destiny is to become one, yet many.”

I don’t believe that destiny is out of reach—not at F&M, not in America, not on this planet. 

It’s going to take our best minds to move forward. It will test us. We have to be optimistic and determined. Cynicism is available but it’s not a viable option. Change may take a long time, but surely, the best tool we have is education and the best form of education is the liberal arts.

We are all called to create that destiny and you who are young will someday be its leaders—in work and worlds we hope to ready you for, well beyond the borders of this campus.

And so, I call us forward today in a spirit of hope for the new year, and thank you for gathering here today.

  • Franklin & Marshall College President Daniel R. Porterfield on Jan. 12, 2016, delivers a major address to the campus about continuing to build on the College's work to promote diversity and inclusion. Franklin & Marshall College President Daniel R. Porterfield on Jan. 12, 2016, delivers a major address to the campus about continuing to build on the College's work to promote diversity and inclusion. Image Credit: Deb Grove
"Don't be afraid. Join the conversation. Listen, learn, feel, think, ask, speak — and maybe laugh, and make new friends. Let's all be a part of this conversation."
Daniel R. Porterfield, President
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