Yesterday’s presidential debate began with a question from a student who is worried about finding a job after graduation. In this economy he expressed a valid concern.
At Whittier College we are looking to one of our most important strengths – intense faculty and student interaction in small class settings – to address this same concern, and we have an excellent base to build upon. We know that the qualities employers want to see in candidates for jobs map nicely onto what our faculty want to instill in every graduate: writing and oral communication skills, ability to work well in groups to achieve complex tasks, a propensity to think through challenges from multiple points of view, and cultural competence evidenced by understanding and respect for people of all backgrounds.
Whittier has always focused on providing these educational outcomes. However, this summer, the faculty took this focus up a notch by spending time thinking through how the faculty might better integrate career development and tracking into the curriculum and into departmental activities. The faculty even made career preparation the subject of their August retreat, and brainstormed about what skills and experiences students should have by the end of their first year at the College and each successive year. While a group of faculty leaders continues with this “whole campus” discussion, our Dean will work with individual departments to enact changes to particular disciplines to benefit our students.
And with all of this activity as background, I look forward to next week, when over 250 people – most of them former students – will come back over Whittier Weekend to celebrate three professors who for a combined 125 years of teaching have exemplified our faculty’s devotion to students’ success after college. Professors Fred Bergerson, Mike McBride, and John Neu have provided generations of Whittier students with foundational academic excellence in the classroom, connections to professional networks leading to graduates’ first and subsequent jobs, and countless hours of inspirational advice, encouragement, and resumé reading on the side.
I wish all students could experience a Whittier education.
Yesterday, we marked another page in our Rock’s 100-year-old history with its relocation on campus to about 20 feet north of its original site. At 7a.m., the crew from Carty Construction began the excavation process, with the Lancers and the QC on hand to record progress. As expected, we discovered about many inches of paint on the Rock’s exposed surface—evidence of years of spirited student painting—and two additional feet of granite beneath the lawn. The crews laid a cement base to provide an anchoring foundation and restore a little bit of the Rock’s original height.
Years of corrosion, earthquakes, pranks, and exposure to the elements put quite a few significant cracks and fractures in our Rock, and in some cases it was literally “held together” by the paint (thank you, Society members and all others who have helped to preserve it all these years!). When we attempted to place the Rock on its new base, the Rock split in two. Fortunately, we planned for this possibility and disaster has been averted by a construction-grade epoxy. The Rock is whole again, and we now will fill any additional cracks, and essentially make the Rock sounder than ever, preserving it for another century of use and lore.
I am certain that yesterday’s chapter in Rock history will be shared and recalled by the Whittier community in 2112 as they mark the Rock’s 200th birthday. Be part of it; stop by the site take a photo to share with your grandchildren!
A little while ago the NYTimes ran an editorial by Ruth Whippman, a self-described “transplanted Brit” who talked about differences in the pursuit of happiness among the Brits and those in the US. She even claimed that California is the headquarters of the happy contingent. Being a student of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and loath to stereotype myself, I immediately recoiled. But then I remembered back to 2005 when David and I first moved to California and people starting asking us about noticeable differences between Californians and our East Coast brethren. My usual retort was to dismiss the stereotyping at the heart of the question and say that people are people all over the world. But, in all honesty, I quickly developed two generalizations about Californians. First, Californians seem much more likely to pay attention to crossing signals. Living in New England for the previous 25 years and spending lots of time in New York, I was used to just crossing the street wherever and whenever I wanted to do so. I have no idea whether the difference here is due to good parental training, fear of tickets or crazy drivers, or just good common sense, but I decided I needed to change my ways, be a good role model, and cross properly too. The second difference I noticed was that Californians love their cars. No, I am not remarking on the traffic. You have never experienced real traffic if you have not tried to travel along the beltway around Washington, DC in rush hour or driven on the only freeway between Hartford and Boston when there is an accident halfway there. Instead, I am referring to the fact that Californians baby their cars by cleaning them all the time. When I first moved here, my assistant Irene Gallardo used to drop hints about keeping my car clean; occasionally she would even offer to take it to the car wash herself. Being a New Englander for 25 years, I never washed my car. Why bother when two days later it will rain or snow, and the car will just get muddy again. But I can tell that I am now a true Californian; just writing about this makes me want to get out there and clean!
Earlier this week on a Sunday morning, I was walking the campus and encountered Professors Becky Overmyer-Velazquez and Rosemary Carbine gathering with their students (see photo) for a visit to LA’s Museum of Tolerance. It got me thinking.
A key Quaker belief is that all persons have inherent worth. As such, our founders were early promoters of respect for and tolerance of people of all races, religious affiliations, and nationalities. But, when you think about it, what is tolerance? It is often defined as the willingness to “put up with something” that you don’t necessarily agree with.
At Whittier we have taken tolerance many steps further. We model a consensus-building process that asks us to hear ideas with which we may not agree, and through a tradition of honoring silence, we teach good listening. While I am proud that faculty, administrators, and even the Board of Trustees follow these practices, it is often our students who teach us the values of tolerance and challenge our campus community to expand our world view.
Recently I attended a talk by the photographer Jeff Sheng who has photographed more than 150 high school and college athletes who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender. He was invited to campus by two Whittier students whom he photographed for his exhibit – Jordan Vega ’13 and Alyssa Sialaris ’13. Both of these students exemplify the “scholar- athlete” we want to attract to our College. They are also quite brave in risking ridicule and censure by taking a stand against discrimination and participating in the photo collection.
In addition to being proud of Jordan and Alyssa, I am impressed by the support that was shown to them by their peers. One of Jeff Sheng’s talks was held in our large Villalobos hall on a busy weeknight, and yet the room was full. When the photos of Jordan and Alyssa were displayed, there was a round of applause and cheers for these two Poets. And I was not at all surprised.
Another student recently took her message of tolerance to a national level. Rosie Llewellyn ’14 was invited, along with other emerging leaders in the LGBT family movement, to meet with Vice President Joe Biden. During her visit, Mr. Biden told Rosie that she was “courageous.” Modestly, Rosie declined the kudos given to her by the VP saying that she has simply “backed her family like anyone else would.”
In reality, Rosie has done more than that. She has told her story with the hope of opening people’s minds to diversity, and she will continue to do so through the Family Equality Council – the Outspoken Generation.
This goes well beyond tolerance. This is leadership.