Office of the President

President’s Leadership Initiative on Inclusive Excellence

Remarks at Founders' Day Convocation

Remarks at Founders' Day Convocation

Feb. 21, 2018

Today we celebrate the founders of Illinois Wesleyan, who were lawyers, doctors, teachers, artisans, mechanics, farmers and ministers — for their time, diverse in their cultural and educational backgrounds, as well as in their interests and occupations, but united in their commitment to furthering the cause of higher education. Now, 168 years after our founding, diversity in all its forms remains central to the mission of Illinois Wesleyan University. But how we think about diversity has changed and expanded over the years. We seek to train leaders for tomorrow’s multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial and multinational society. That each of us — students, alumni, faculty and staff — come from differing backgrounds is both cause for celebration and a source of strength. It is therefore fitting that on this day honoring our founders we launch a commitment to diversity that we expect will guide us into the next generation of our University's great future.

You've heard me, and other University leaders, speak previously about our commitment to diversity, with diversity defined broadly as differences between community members who come from the full human spectrum of life experiences. Especially for our students from underrepresented circumstances, this commitment must be demonstrated beyond aspirational language. It must be made tangible in the financial aid students receive, in who students see as mentors and teachers, and in the experiences available to everyone in our campus community. We're here to describe a focused commitment of energy and resources that will accomplish meaningful change.

The political scientist Robert Putnam, in his famous book Bowling Alone, talks about the “social capital” that makes communities, whether large or small, strong. Putnam says that there are two kinds of social capital: bonding capital, which binds us to each other within our sometimes narrow groups; and bridging capital, which, by spanning gaps between communities, binds these groups together. We’ve begun building this “bridging capital.”  To continue to do so, we must heighten our efforts not just to accept, but, to celebrate, the differences between us.  Meaningful changes then cascade, as we recognize our diversity as shared strength, and use it, purposefully and consciously, to continue to build a diverse, open, and welcoming community. To that end, I am announcing the President’s Leadership Initiative on Inclusive Excellence. There are three components to this initiative:

The first pillar is students. We’ve been quietly preparing for this, for a number of years leading up to today's public declaration. We have been encouraged by our emerging successes in efforts to improve both access to Illinois Wesleyan and our climate on campus, in ongoing efforts such as the following:

The successes that we have seen to date have come through purposeful efforts. We know that work remains. To fulfill our educational mission of preparing global citizens who can effectively engage across difference, our students should encounter peers, teachers and mentors representing the broad possibilities of human experience.  Therefore:

The second pillar is experiences in the classroom, including the diversity of faculty and staff contributing to these experiences. We are:

The third pillar is campus-wide action. We will champion inclusive efforts on all levels.

Undertaken collectively, this commitment will acquire momentum, to propel us into a future where each one of us – faculty, staff and students – can come to understand our individual role in making a world that is inclusively excellent. I look forward to the years ahead, as this exciting initiative unfolds. We – together – are forging an exciting new path for our community, and we – together – will make our founders proud.