Opening Eyes, Hearts, and Minds


Last week, the Black Student Union (BSU) hosted a moving, inspiring event, a candlelight vigil to remember, to reflect, and to commit ourselves to social justice and equality. At the ceremony on September 28, organizers asked participants not to film or share images on social media, so I respectfully show here only a photograph of the exterior of the Williams Center that night as I consider that vigil and its importance to our campus and community.

Organized and presented by BSU, the vigil offered many ways to share and reflect on the narratives of race in our country, in our community, and on our campus. As participants entered, students in black hoodies stood with arms raised across the front of the room, beneath a slide that read simply, BLACK LIVES MATTER. Leaders from BSU presented on perceptions of race and implicit bias in America and the ways those perceptions affect people of color nationally and here. Several testimonies offered powerful accounts and viewpoints, and all joined in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the James Weldon Johnson/John Rosamond Johnson hymn which is often referred to as the Black National Anthem. The lyrics of that hymn were first sung in 1900 but still ring true in 2016 for those who seek to understand history and work for justice in the present and future:

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

BSU leaders presented a list of ideas that offered specific next steps to a conversation begun at a forum they had led last spring on campus. On a slide entitled, “Changes We Want to See on Our Campus & Community,” the five ideas emerged not as demands but areas where we need to work together:

  • Cultural sensitivity and diversity training
  • More representation for People of Color
  • More accountability for acts of discrimination done by professors
  • More awareness on how to report acts of discrimination
  • More consequences for discrimination at places in the community

If we want to extend true welcome and a sense of belonging to students, faculty, and staff of color–and I believe that we do–these are the kinds of attention that must be paid. And I look forward to working with campus leaders across divisions, with students, with the Center for Multicultural Affairs, with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and with community/business leaders to have our campus and community be true places of welcoming, where all people are seen, valued, and treated with respect.

One of the most powerful parts of the vigil was a requiem for those African Americans who have died in police or community actions in recent years. A dozen BSU members stood on stage, each coming forward as a photograph and name appeared on the screen. “Say his name: Trayvon Martin,” the first speaker began, telling about him as a person with family, with accomplishments, with dreams. With each life told, the closing, “Black lives matter,” was taken out of abstraction into the eyes of the portrait on the screen. A light shone for each person, and then a slideshow with more names and faces played as another hymn was sung. For those of us in the packed multipurpose room of the Williams Center, it was a time of silence and shared grief, with each person then asked to act for justice and equality.

In this election year, there has been much conversation on race in America, revealing the many unresolved issues and continued biases in our culture. Fredonia does not exist independently of these national conversations, but because of the power of such events as the candlelight vigil and the continued strong voices of students, faculty, and staff, we can make a difference here. I am grateful to the students who organized this event and remain committed to working with them on the changes they identified.


Changing Perceptions

A few months ago, if you had stood in this position on Fredonia’s campus, you wouldn’t have seen the sky. The massive spine bridge would have been overhead, and your view would have included the concrete pillars with their colorful bulletin boards announcing concerts and speakers and items for sale. I miss those–and the concrete benches across the top–even if I don’t miss the dripping or gushing drains and the exposed rebar that caused me to worry about the aging structure.

After the removal of the spine this summer, it’s a little disorienting to stand there in the newly opened space. All of a sudden, you can see clearly from the Williams Center into the inviting, green quad. Like the temporary surface, the entrance in this photograph will not be finished until next summer. But already the sets of doors beckon. The dramatic curves and recesses of McEwen Hall are now visible, the windows no longer bisected by the huge walkway.

I’m getting used to it and enjoying the way this change causes me to see things I never noticed before: the morning shadows stretching across the lawn, the wholeness of the library façade, the play of light on the board-formed concrete. 

In some ways, this new perception is at work across campus as we undertake the process of Right Serving, Right Sizing. In approaching student learning with a growth mindset, in looking for efficiencies in our operations, in tuning and streamlining programs, in examining our structures and processes, we are opening our ways of looking at the familiar. We are opening ourselves to transformation. I am looking forward to seeing what each division discovers, what it seeks to change, and what it strengthens for the student experience at Fredonia.

Trust and Guidance


On a recent walk through the new addition to the Rockefeller Arts Center–something I love doing these days!–I encountered groups of students doing something unusual. In each pair or small group, one person was blindfolded, and others were using descriptions and gentle touches to guide them around the building. What was most evident to me, besides the fun they seemed to be having, was the ways that students were reassuring one another in a disorienting situation.

I overheard students describing the spaces around the blindfolded people, saying things like, “Just to your right is the concrete wall,” or “We are still walking toward the new dance studio.” Guides would let go and coach hesitant people to take steps without touching anything. When they approached a drinking fountain, one guide encouraged the blindfolded person to touch it, even to take a drink by hearing instructions of how close the water was to her lips.

In some ways, seeing the exercise reminded me of how much we rely upon trust at Fredonia. Students entrust their futures to the faculty who develop and deliver the curriculum in their fields and in general education. They trust that faculty are knowledgeable in their disciplines and genuinely interested in their learning. They trust that staff in residence halls, dining halls, Reed Library, the Counseling Center, and many student service areas can and will help them. It’s a big responsibility that we don’t take lightly. We want students to succeed, to overcome their trepidation and fear, and to walk on their own to bright futures.

The strong communities at Fredonia also depend on students trusting and guiding one another. Mentors in academic programs and student organizations set the examples and guide those who are just starting out. Even in social media, I see students offering advice and support to one another. This trust and guidance, this social dynamic of learning together, is one of the hallmarks of learning and living at Fredonia.






The Look of Leadership

STEPS Aug 2016

When I sloshed through the rain on Wednesday evening on the way to Steele Hall, I was thinking two things: we certainly needed the rain, and it had been the kind of rough day that getting pelted by torrents was almost a relief. We all have some challenges these days, as people across campus are using imagination and hard work to manage resources, be even more efficient, and provide the best education that we can for Fredonia students. And some days, frankly, are harder than others. But I came to Activities Night knowing that I would see the strongest reminder about why all of us are here.

I was energized to see students sharing their passions, reaching out to others, celebrating seeing one another again. I saw kindness, as a student urged me not to take a picture until the person who worked hard to create the poster came back and could pose with the others. I saw good kinds of craziness, with LARPers in staged battle, percussionists with several kinds of instruments, geologists painting pet rocks, Quidditch and Pokemon Go players luring others in. I saw generosity and talent. I saw people connecting through intramurals, Greek organizations, Spectrum, clubs related to their majors.I was offered candy, stickers, and beautiful, sweet cherry tomatoes from the community garden. I was thrilled to see many students registering to vote. Mostly, I saw leadership, with groups such as STEPS and FREDAssist and Colleges against Cancer and St. Jude and Alternative Break Program and so many other groups asking others to help them do good in the world. When I see the skills of those who organize these volunteers and encourage others to join them, even a challenging day ends well.

There was an amazing sky, streaked with pink and orange, when I left Steele Hall. Budget challenges, personnel issues, problems to discuss and solve–all of these would wait until morning. For that night, I was buoyed by what I see Fredonia student leaders doing.



Welcome to Lens 138

Each week on campus, I take many pictures–events, people, scenes, moments of life at Fredonia. In this blog, I will be sharing at least one photograph each week, with comments about the subject, as I see it through the lens of my office, 138 Fenton Hall. 

This fountain near the Williams Center patio reminds me of several important ideas. A gift of the Class of 2015, the fountain is a beautiful addition to the campus, offering opportunity for a few tranquil minutes to those passing by. That class hoped it would be used for wishing, with new and current students tossing coins in as they think about their hopes and dreams–and graduating students thinking about their lives ahead. In fact, funds from tossed coins are donated to the Make A Wish Foundation, at the class’s request.

So walking by the fountain on Move-In Day, I made these wishes for new students: that you find friends, challenging courses, people who support you in your learning and personal growth. Beginning in a new place is hard, and I know that it can be lonely. Toss a coin in the fountain, and make a wish. Then get to class, spend an hour in the library, take the first step to invite someone to lunch, join a club, and volunteer on a service project. This is your campus,  and my wish is that you’ll be at home here in no time.