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.
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.
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.