Students Critically Evaluate

President Rebecca Chopp

Over the past week, I have been privi- leged to witness a true liberal arts community in action as Colgate students, faculty and staff have processed the information in a website that circulated on campus. In analyzing the website’s arguments and claims, students used the critical thinking skills that have been taught by members of the faculty throughout our history. Students and faculty have identified the logical and moral flaws inherent in stereotyping, and pointed out inconsistencies in the information reported about Colgate’s curriculum, students and faculty. The response from students and faculty has been civil and public, with individuals taking full responsibility for their opinions. I want to say a few words about the connections between diversity, civic discourse and liberal arts education. I want to do so from the perspective of core values in our mission. The core values of Colgate as a liberal arts institution have to do with freedom and responsibility; individuality and community; rigorous, critical thinking and truth telling. The word “liberal” in liberal arts is from the words “freedom” and “growth”; we believe you develop into freedom and responsibility only as you acquire the capacity to think for yourself, to question your own presuppositions as well as those of others, to listen to perspectives that are different from your own, and to address new issues and problems in the world in which you live. Liberal arts is an education in civic freedom and responsibility, preparing students to build the democratic society of tomorrow in which they will live. We should never, ever rest upon an easy belief that the hard work of achieving a civic society is finished or good enough. Every generation must try to make the society better, must strive for freedom and responsibility for all, and must ensure this society is, for each person and for all persons, e pluribus unum. In our day and age, in our century and world, diversity, most fundamentally understood as difference from oneself or one’s worldview, runs through all forms of freedom and responsibility. The critical thinking that is the lifeblood of a liberal arts education teaches us how to resist stereotyping – all stereotyping – as the impediment to e pluribus unum. Diversity is about really understanding how individuals and cultures interrelate in complex and multifaceted ways. Yes, it is hard work. Yes, it is challenging to learn, understand, question yourself and others in the midst of diversity, and to seek new ways to build a common democracy in a truly multicultural world. But liberal arts institutions have, time again, faced similar daunting challenges and risen to the occasion. We should seek no greater opportunity and no lesser challenge than to fashion liberal arts and democratic society for the twenty-first-century. I expect every individual to exercise his or her freedom and responsibility in this community, and I ask that everyone work to build our life together so that each and every individual may achieve success, and that together we may nurture a united community in which difference is a value, a reality and a strength.