To our students:
As we all have observed during the recent elections, as well as in the days following, our ability to function as a society based upon the free and respectful exchange of ideas has been sorely tested by deep divisions surfacing in our culture. These divisions have weakened the very threads that bind us as a people. Such a threat to respect for difference – in selves, but in ideas as well -- is troubling for many reasons, since America has always been a land of differences and broad diversity.
As far back as the 18th century, when our country was beginning its long experiment in democracy, French immigrant author St. Jean de Crevecoeur wrote in his Letters from an American Farmer that the real strength of the American colonies was an identity then completely new in the world, forged by people from many faiths and ethnicities who all sought freedom and the benefits to be gained by self-determination. Our great revolution in the world was that we were, and are, a people shaped by an idea.
American universities, born of that idea, are institutions where diversity has long been nurtured and valued. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Humanities, where we investigate what it means to be a person, a member of a society, a traveler in the rich history of human imagination. In the English Department, we read and write to explore ourselves, but we also read and write to consider with openness of mind and spirit the values of others who themselves seek meanings in life. Like Hamlet, we may wonder at the “piece of work” that is humans. Like Celie in The Color Purple, we may ponder and discover who we are as we come to know other cultures and histories. Like Esperanza in The House on Mango Street, our sense of self may be challenged by the traditions of our society. Books, films, and creative writing offer us worlds like but unlike our own; our role as readers is to explore them sincerely as purposeful versions of living in the world, seeing what we might adopt or reject for our own lives. We are all of us journeyers. Perhaps we too often work to justify university education by highlighting its role in students obtaining careers, but it serves, too, as a system fundamentally apart from the pressures of mere practicality, so that students and faculty alike can investigate, consider, challenge, revise, decide, become.
Our duty, then, as members of both American society and the university community, is to insure that our classrooms, our hallways, our offices, our campus itself preserve the essential element of our national philosophy: the respectful exchange of ideas based upon the belief that we all strive for the same things in spite of our seeming surface differences.
The faculty and staff of the Department of English are committed to diversity as a fundamental trait of a thriving, democratic America. We value respect because we value the rewards of an open mind. We will strive for classrooms where all ideas can be expressed. Threats to that ideal will be confronted as threats to the university itself – to the very ideals of our society. Democracy functions best when all citizens contribute. After all, American democracy is a living text every one of us, every day, is writing into existence.
Professor Steve Wilson
Department of English