Three Essential Commitments

Margee Ensign

Photo by Carl Socolow '77

by Margee Ensign, President

As we begin the new year, full of possibilities and hope, let me take this opportunity to reflect on what I think are the three essential commitments that make Dickinson unique.

First, in an often contentious, divided and mutually intolerant nation, it seems to me that our deep and revolutionary commitment to free and unfettered speech is more important than ever before.

Our revolutionary founder, Benjamin Rush, hoped that his college would become a place where leaders for a new democracy would be forged. That meant then, as it means now, that citizens would be educated in those values essential to making any democracy work: a tolerance for other people’s views, an absolute commitment to freedom—especially for those we dislike or with whom we disagree—and a willingness to try to work together.

Freedom is always challenging: Differences of strongly held opinion are often irritating, difficult to understand, even enraging. In a democracy, we understand this and we find ways to live with it without resorting to violence or tyranny. In a world and in a country where there are those who would restrict freedom in the name of their own righteousness, and even on college campuses which ought to be paragons of open-mindedness, Dickinson’s unwavering commitment to free speech continues to be revolutionary more than 200 years after our founding.

Second, as Dickinson continues to welcome people of many different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs and worldviews, our commitment to the development of intercultural skills looms ever more important. Our country has a greater variety of people than ever before in its history. This is a good thing. Difference, properly understood, can be enormously stimulating, a spur to creativity, to new and better ideas, a way to broaden our minds.

But difference is also challenging. Even with the best will in the world, intercultural contact is plagued by misunderstanding, miscommunication, conflict and mutual incomprehension. However, there are skills that all of us can learn in order to minimize these difficulties and facilitate better understanding and communication. In the months and years ahead, Dickinson will lead the way in making intercultural competence a central feature of our lives together, a model for the nation.

Third, we shall continue our focus on education for the common good, a Dickinson hallmark. Having spent some time traveling the country to meet with Dickinson alumni, I now have a much clearer notion of what that means in practice.

Our goal at this college is to help students to discover and to foster their talents and abilities so that each may achieve a rich, rewarding and fulfilling life. Such lives take many different shapes. But at the same time, we recognize that we all live among others, and that the common good is everybody’s business. We all have a stake in contributing to a society that makes opportunity available to everyone without discrimination, one that protects freedom for everyone, one that seeks a prosperous, just, peaceful and sustainable world. At Dickinson, we give students the opportunity to know the world’s peoples, to understand how the world works, and to learn the intellectual and practical skills that will help them make their own unique contributions.

We shall—inevitably—disagree with one another about how best to achieve the common good. But with an abiding faith in our democratic heritage and its fundamental principles, and with the skill to better communicate and work across cultural divides of all sorts, I am convinced that Dickinson students and alumni will continue to forge a better world.

Read more from the winter 2018 issue of Dickinson Magazine.



Published January 23, 2018