The Uncommonness of Emory University

I came to Emory 100 days ago to pursue an audacious dream. That dream is to build a transformative campus life environment that enables every student at Emory University to leave her or his footprint on the campus community and our global society. Emory University is a destination for dreamers because of what I call the uncommonness of Emory University. The last 100 days have shown me, unequivocally, that Emory is truly focused on dreams—on beginnings, not endings.

I'm excited to revision Campus Life with our stakeholders over the course of this year and to build a campus life that is reflective of our values, our principles, and our aspirations. I've connected with many of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and participated in hundreds of programs and meetings. I've even begun engaging in a host of virtual connections through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. Through all of this, I continue to be energized by our very special, uncommon community.

The Uncommonness of Emory University has been described to me as quirky, cool, courageous, loving, open, and wide-awake. This cultural characteristic might be rooted in the traditions of our founding campus of Oxford College, which Dean Joseph Moon has called an "uncommon place."

One of the first uncommon characteristics of Emory that resonated with me was the idea of courageous inquiry and leadership, a key component of our University vision statement. Tim Downes, Athletic Director at Emory, said to me that our students are not spectators; they are participants. He is absolutely right.

Emory Seniors Nir Levy, Ian McCall, Giovanni Hobbins, and Pat Shea, who graduated from the Goizueta Business School in May, are participants. They produced the Emory Bubble, a web portal that aspires to be the go-to social media platform for activities beyond the classroom. It offers a calendar of events and lots of useful information about campus organizations, sports, dining, and area nightlife. The Emory Bubble is the first homegrown start-up organization approved by the University to bear the Emory name. Leadership at Emory isn't just about having an important title.

The courage of our students to be innovative and creative in their leadership roles, the desire and commitment of our students to voice their concerns and opinions no matter how unpopular, and the courage of our students to trust their community members is refreshing, promising, and exciting to see.

At Emory, leadership is about being a courageous change agent, and one of the roles of Campus Life is to recognize that all of our students are potential leaders, regardless of whether they serve in high-profile positions.

Emory College Senior Caleb Peng is a courageous change agent. Caleb produced the "Project Unspoken: I am Tired of the Silence" video project to engage male students in preventing and responding to sexual assault and relationship violence. The 8-minute video, which is on YouTube, has garnered nearly 2,800 hits and has attracted the attention of other universities, educators, rape crisis centers, and even the White House. "I hope that this video and future videos will be a resource that anyone in the world can use to educate and encourage people to join the cause," Peng said. "To be honest, I'm just an ordinary guy that enjoys sports, watching movies, listening to music, and hanging out with friends. And at the end of the day, every ordinary person can help put an end to sexual violence."

Through leadership and many other aspects of campus life, Emory inspires self-awareness in students; Maxine Greene calls this awareness "wide-awakeness." Greene says that consciousness or wide-awakeness comes from being "alive, awake, curious, and often furious."

To be a dreamer requires that you are sometimes furious! For many years, institutions like Emory worked towards moving the margins closer to the center. Today our students are redefining that center, wide awake, pushing the boundaries further than our society is sometimes willing to accept.

President Wagner has said that we strive to be a great University but also a good University—a University that works towards a more vital integrity and that engages students in the development of their character and their intellectual curiosity.

Emory College freshman Rebecca Lichtenstein attended the Crossroads Fall Break retreat to meet new people, but walked away with a renewed eagerness to "see what's in store for me at Emory." She had never before been in a setting with such diverse individuals connecting on such a deep level. She stated, "I had a few good cries and really opened up to those around me. Finally I felt like my peers could not only see who I was, but legitimately cared." Rebecca's experience is an example of why Emory students are not spectators, but participants.

In the next few months, Campus Life will develop a vision for our learning community as a bridge between academics and co-curricular life at Emory. For instance, we will examine how spaces like the DUC, SAAC, Athletics, Sororities and Fraternities, Residence Halls, and Dining contribute to a collective vision of a learning community.

We will move from a predominantly facilities-based model to a unified programmatic model that will help us create a framework for excellence for our learning community. One example of this is the Play Emory program. This program is intended to coordinate Emory's significant resources related to health and wellness through physical activity to maximize the impact on the campus population with regards to wellness education and lifelong skill development. This is just one example of many opportunities that will emerge from our learning community.

We will build upon the excellent work of our Office of Student Leadership and Service, and we hope to continue to engage faculty in enhancing curriculum and building strong partnerships with Emory's schools and centers.

Perhaps our most profoundly uncommon characteristic is what Marshall Duke, Professor of Psychology at Emory, calls the "invisible force" at Emory. I see this invisible force or school spirit as the convergence of Emory's physical space, Emory's traditions, and Emory's very special people.

That force lives within individuals as well as our collective communities, such as alumni and parents, who are part of our intergenerational community. It lives within our students, who come from all over the world, our faculty, our staff, our neighbors, and of course, Lord Dooley.

Our collective and individual energy is intertwined with physical space: the chalkboard near the Psychology building, the gates at Emory, the Miller-Ward Alumni House, Oxford College, Lullwater, Matheson Reading Room, the Quad, the parlor at Dobbs Hall, Asbury Circle, and many others.

I've heard from many of our alumni that when they visit these sacred spaces after graduation they have flashbacks to key transformative experiences. They describe their experiences as similar to waking up from a dream.

These spaces often remind our community members about traditions like Songfest, First Fridays, Wonderful Wednesdays, the Sophomore Pinning Ceremony, Emory Cares, Unity Celebration Month, Dooley's Ball, Dooley's Week, Homecoming, the Carter Town Hall, and visits from His Holiness the Dalia Lama, just to name a few. Or they might be reminded of their favorite classes or community service activities.

The uncommonness of Emory is our school spirit. But spirit cannot exist without an open campus community that allows us to have what President Wagner calls the "impossible conversation"—a University that places the greatest value on freedom of speech, inquiry, thought, and lawful assembly.

The Division of Campus Life, with Emory faculty and our other partners, will lead a discussion this year examining the rights and responsibilities of our community members related to open expression, protest, and dissent at Emory. This spring, we will present our recommendations to the University Senate.

It is clear that we are at a critical juncture in the development of our community. We have an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate the increasing diversity of our campus. And I believe our students recognize that to be a member of our Emory community requires courageous inquiry, dialogue, action, reflection, debate, and an acknowledgement that our core will be challenged from time to time, not because our community is weak, but because we have resolved to embrace our multiplicity and the porous boundaries that enable a free and open educational environment. The work of the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services and the Office of Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Life, along with our partners in Emory Community and Diversity, will be key to our success.

In my first 100 days at Emory, I've been most impressed by Emory's intrinsic value of doing the right thing. This value is not designed to suggest that we are perfect (we certainly are not), but that even in our darkest moments, our aspirational goals will help us become better, with the goal of serving as a standard for the rest of society.

The Emory I have discovered and continue to discover—even with its long, rich, and vibrant history—is coming of age now. This Emory provides us ALL with a tremendous opportunity to dream, and to dream big, and for that I am proud and so very excited to be part of the Emory family.

*Quotes from students are reprinted here with permission from the Emory Report