Building Intercultural Community in Polarized Times

Jan. 7, 2021

Dear Members of the University Community,

Early this morning, as I read the news that Congress had completed its work certifying the legally elected next President of the United States of America, I suddenly found myself overcome with emotion. We had borne witness to a horrific, violent assault on a citadel of our democracy meant to overturn the will of the people. Yet, our democracy not only persevered; it prevailed.

Yesterday’s insurrection was a painful and shocking reminder of why our educational mission and collective work building a true intercultural community is more essential than ever. In this bitterly polarized time, when so many discussions on difficult subjects devolve into diatribe, we must graduate students capable of engaging across difference, from race, class, and gender to politics and religion. We in higher education have an explicit responsibility to teach and model substantive disagreement and dialogue, and to prepare students to contribute meaningfully as citizens and leaders of this nation and, indeed, the world.

As we begin a new semester, let us recommit to our intellectual community that encourages civil disagreement and the vigorous exchange of ideas, to our values of inclusivity and equity — all essential to our mission of preparing students for lives of purpose in a diverse and complex world. Learning to navigate our differences with curious minds and with patience, discipline, empathy, and intellect — the building blocks of civility — will be a continuous journey. But if all of us commit to this work, I am confident we will emerge from this turbulent time in American history better equipped to strengthen our pluralistic democracy and to live up to our promise of “e pluribus unum.”

Against a backdrop of discord and violence, we would be wise to heed Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to unite as one, “tied in a single garment of destiny, caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality.” I continue to believe that together we can build an America that makes one out of many.


Ronald A. Crutcher