President Dobkin on the 2020 Election
November 2, 2020
Dear Westminster Community,
We’re about 10 months into life with COVID-19. Throughout this period, I’ve sought new ways to connect with you virtually. With that goal in mind, this message is intended as the first in a regular series to share thoughts and perspectives about news of the times and the direction of the college.
Election night has long marked the end of protracted contests over the leadership of our country. This year’s election night, like so many other rituals of transition or closure, will be different. It might not bring a symbolic end to national or state elections, a shared sense of purpose, or renewed confidence in democracy.
I voted early this year, and I confess missing the “I voted” sticker I’d get at a polling station. Voting exemplifies commitment to democratic processes and institutions, and public displays of voting serve as reminders of our civic duty. At the same time, we increasingly risk reducing the significance of voting to a performative act, and reflexively checking boxes because someone told us we should. That’s what happens when decision making happens without hearing multiple perspectives, weighing evidence, and considering alignment with our values. Regardless of the election outcomes, the process of empathetic listening, critical assessment of information, and thoughtful consideration of consequences stands in peril.
Holding on to robust processes of discernment is difficult when fear, pain, and anxiety create a sense of being under siege. Given the conditions created by the coronavirus, we have fewer sources of community connection, engagement with diversity, and places of peace and reflection to help us learn and build the courage to change the material conditions that threaten our world. Those avenues of connection, engagement, discernment and action are some of the most important things we provide with a Westminster education, and why I’m so honored to serve and promote our college.
The tensions of our times make what we do and our plans for the future ever more vital and compelling. Natalie Schwartz, summarizing recent research supported by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, describes 3 attributes of liberal arts education essential to achieving the benefits that we commonly claim: pedagogical approaches that include engagement with content experts with teaching-focused faculty who spend time outside of class with students; curriculum that exposes students to various disciplines, with breadth, depth, and student-guided/signature approaches to the curriculum; and communities which promote sustained interactions amongst diverse sets of peers and experiences that offer knowledge and skills beyond the classroom. Study after study supports the value of what we do and where we are headed.
We’ve arrived at week 12 in the semester, and as many of us celebrate, we also count the days left in the year. I admit to smiling at holiday cards that say, “Good riddance, 2020!” In the potential chaos and conflict of the weeks ahead, remember that we are stronger together, even when we may disagree, and as long as we live by the principles on which our education has been founded.
Take care this election week, and beyond.