Asking the Right Questions

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Carol Quillen

Carol Quillen

At Davidson, we strive to create a campus culture where all students, faculty and staff, regardless of their gender, racial, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs, feel welcome and supported. How do we do this in a place born in a time vastly different from our own? By asking foundational questions—questions that inspire people to think in new ways and that challenge outdated assumptions about who Davidson is for and how we can best serve them.

Foundational questions emerge with increasing clarity as our college grows more diverse. At its founding and for many years, Davidson primarily served white protestant male students from the southeast. Over the past several decades, we have become a truly heterogeneous community, one that seeks out talented people from different faiths, nations, backgrounds, races, worldviews and genders. This diversity enables the college to see and address barriers to inclusivity that can remain invisible to those unaffected by them. Often, the person or group who is marginalized is the first to recognize these barriers.

It’s one thing to enroll a diverse student body and another thing to dismantle obstacles that can make their experience of Davidson less than that of their male, white counterparts. Although we have much still to learn and do, Davidson has worked hard to clear away these obstacles. Examples range from offering women’s sports to providing food on campus during breaks to ensuring that financial aid packages include the opportunity to study abroad.

As we dismantle obstacles to inclusion we strengthen our commitment to educational excellence. The questions we ask are shaped by our experiences. A more diverse population will ask a broader set of questions. Although sometimes dissonant, many voices asking multiple questions leads not only to better classroom discussion and more nuanced research and learning, but also to an enhanced, richer curriculum. Africana Studies and Gender Studies were born in part out of efforts to understand human stories that could not be discovered, let alone told, through existing disciplines and analytical frameworks.

At a time when Americans increasingly self-segregate, choosing to live, worship, study and socialize with like-minded folk who look alike, Davidson students live and work for four years among people from diverse backgrounds whose experiences, perspectives and deepest convictions differ. This heterogeneity improves learning and prepares graduates for a rapidly changing, interconnected world; and our community will of course benefit when all students, faculty and staff feel valued and included.

We create a more inclusive campus environment when we approach one another in the spirit of open-minded inquiry, willing to listen and to learn. This is some of the most rewarding work we do, and the work is never done.

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About Author

Carol Quillen

Davidson College President Carol Quillen has engaged the college community in reimagining the liberal arts experience within the changing landscape of higher education and an increasingly interconnected world. Quillen became the 18th president of Davidson College on Aug. 1, 2011.

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