Our University – Building Community

The greatest challenge of any university is building a community.  This probably could be said for any enterprise, including towns in Southern Illinois that so many of us call home.

Individuals sometimes get things done, communities almost always get things done.  Even the most gifted among us tend to rely on others from time to time. Thomas Edison had a community around him. He worked with people who adopted his vision and diligently sought to achieve it with him.

At the university we are a community that values students first, much like a town or village values its citizens first.  No citizen no town.  Each hour that we labor, collectively and individually, opens new opportunities to those who come seeking to better themselves by learning, studying, exploring and providing service to others.  We have unique roles in complex organizations where energy comes from merging ideas, cultures, and relationships.  Our students’ stories are Southern’s story.

And to look ahead we must have a kind of faith in the University: A faith in others.  Just like people in any of the communities in Southern Illinois have a “faith” in the place they live.  I am not talking about the faith that some of us exercise in-and-through a church, temple, synagogue or mosque, but a variety of faith that comes from working together for the common good.

Faith in and at work.

Not a religious or spiritual faith in the traditional sense, but rather faith that proclaims by working together that we can improve our lot.  This is fundamentally important to the future of Southern and our region.  Our University is getting better, not by the actions of one or two, but the work of many, thousands now, and tens of thousands in our collective history, committed to progress.

There are two universities that we nurture at Southern.  The first is the one that occupies center stage most of the time.  It is the University that teaches classes, conducts research, engages in creative and scholarly work, counsel’s students, constructs and administers programs, builds buildings, and awards degrees.

There is another University though.  A University that contributes to the central function of an education as surely as the first University does.

I call this the Other University.  This is the one that sponsors talks for people with different views, participates in clubs and organizations so that a sense of belonging is built, goes to athletics events, houses and feeds people, and provides a sense of belonging for the students that study here.

Building community.

It is far more than the simply imparting knowledge.  Rather it is the establishment of a brother-/sisterhood.  Our university should be an extended family, a community, that creates relationships among the classmates, faculty and staff who study and work here, just like a town where people grow individually and collectively at the same time through their membership in the place.

Ralph Waldo Emerson discovered deep community watching bees.  “No matter how you seem to fatten on a crime, there can never be good for the bee which is bad for the hive.”

The similarities between the towns and hamlets, cities and villages, of Southern Illinois, and Our University are powerful and important lessons can be learned by looking out and looking in, because community is at the center of all.

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