We begin this semester in the midst of our academic year.
Yes, December saw the usual deluge of “best of” lists to say goodbye to 2015. And yes, many watched the ball drop to signal the start of 2016. Crowds in our fitness facilities show the force of resolutions, as do the bright-eyed, well-rested faces in morning classes.
Yet a change of calendar does not close the door on the previous year. For one thing, this week marks the release of the university’s annual report, think: connection. The title underscores the many ways we engaged with one another and external organizations during the 2014-2015 academic year. From collaborating with Cleveland Clinic to explore opportunities of the Microsoft HoloLens… to partnering with a patient and federal agencies to restore the sense of touch… to pulling together people from engineering, law, management and more to create an innovation ecosystem for student entrepreneurs. In every instance, increasing cooperation enhanced what we could accomplish—and often made the effort itself more rewarding.
For us, this theme applies beyond the bounds of any one year. We regularly benefit from activities and interactions with others, whether the subject is education, research, or extracurricular activities. We learn from each other. We inspire one another. Sometimes we debate and disagree. But in expressing our differences, and in experiencing them, we gain new insights and develop broader perspectives.
Diversity is a core value of our university. We believe that the presence of people from other nations, states, ethnicities, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, talents and viewpoints creates a richer environment for all. We have improved the diversity of our entering undergraduate classes significantly, but know we have much more to do. With regard to the diversity of our faculty, our advances have not been as strong. Still, we continue to seek new and better ways to attract and retain outstanding scholars from underrepresented groups.
Last year, we launched Diversity 360, an education program that we encouraged all faculty, staff and students to experience. Last semester we welcomed Cleveland Hillel’s new executive director, Jared Isaacson, and yesterday marked the opening of its new home, the Albert and Norma Geller Hillel Student Center on Euclid Avenue. Next Friday, Jan. 22, we welcome Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Institute, as our featured Martin Luther King Jr. convocation speaker as part of a week of activities that recognize King’s life and legacy.
These events take place within a national context where some sow doubts about differences among us. In December, insinuations that Muslims were to be feared because they might be terrorists gave way to calls that those of this religion be barred from the U.S. Such incendiary rhetoric continues today, echoing ugly elements of our history that many believed were long buried.
The statements, and citizens’ responses to them, cannot help but affect people on our own campus. I encourage those who want to talk about these issues to take advantage of opportunities and resources on our campus, from events and activities to campus offices and advocacy groups. Sometimes the simple act of speaking honestly with one another can increase understanding, offer support, and even provide healing. When we engage in authentic conversations, we go beyond cliché and caricature. We celebrate all that makes another unique, even as we embrace our shared humanity.
Welcome to your new semester. To courses and projects… teaching and learning… sometimes feeling lost—and then found. I hope you take time to explore differences, accept challenges and forge connections—for yourself, for your community, and for Case Western Reserve.