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.